First Impressions are Lasting Impressions: The First Day of Class
Monday, March, 20th, 2017
By Annie Soisson, Associate Director of CELT
“The beginning is the most important part of the work” – Plato
The first day of class is always exciting, and often a little anxiety-provoking for faculty and students alike. Even seasoned faculty can become anxious and forget to focus on the group’s relationship, and instead leap directly into the course content. It can be useful to think ahead about what you want students to leave with on the first day. Take the opportunity to create an atmosphere that engages students and encourages their participation, which, in turn, will generate excitement and add to the richness of the learning experience.
Get to know your students
Focus on the most important things they need to know
1. Get to know your students
Stand at the door as students come in and have them introduce themselves to you. This gives you a chance to hear how they pronounce their names, and is their first impression of you.
In a small class, have students introduce themselves and share something about themselves, where they are originally from, or why they chose the course. In a large class, you can ask them to do this in small groups while you walk around. Introductions give you another chance to learn students’ names and begin to foster a positive class atmosphere.
Create a “Getting to Know You” form, either on paper or online, to obtain relevant information that might be useful to you in communicating with your students and help you get to know them as learners. You can include a variety of questions such as: What is your preferred name? What is your preferred pronoun? What would you like me to know about you as a learner? What are your goals for this class? How do you learn best? Or more playful questions like: What is the most beautiful sight you have ever seen? If your song played when you enter the room, what would it be?
In a large class, decide whether you prefer that students keep the same seats throughout the semester or not. If you do, prepare a seating chart to make it easier for you to call on students by name. You can also use name tents, and challenge yourself to remember as many student names as possible.
2. Establish rapport
Introduce yourself and perhaps tell a little personal story or a little about your life.
Establish your credibility in relation to the course topic – describe your background and research, and what excites you about the field.
Tell a story that conveys the value and importance of the subject. For some, this is the easiest part. Share what drew you to the field, what is exciting about the topic and what is current about it. Explain why students spend a semester exploring this subject. Talk about what connects the course to their lives and the things they find interesting or important
What do you love about teaching? Let them know what they can expect of you as their Professor, and what you expect of them as learners. What will they know or be able to do as a result of having taken your class?
3. Focus on only the most important information they need to know
We often go through the syllabus carefully, rather than focus on the highlights that let them know how you will work together. They can read the syllabus. What do you want them to know about the most important choices you have made, and why you have made them?
Hand out an informative, possibly artistic, user-friendly syllabus that includes the objectives for the class, your expectations around attendance and work, dates of scheduled exams, due dates of papers, and a reading list. Spend a few minutes describing what the books and readings are about and how they relate to the theme of the course.
Convey your expectations regarding appropriate amounts of study time and homework assignments. Explain the differences between academic dishonesty and legitimate collaboration.
Announce your office hours and location (then hold them without fail), the best way to contact you, and how quickly you will respond. Let them know how you prefer to contact them.
On the first day, end class ten minutes early in order to pass out an evaluation card to allow students to provide informal feedback regarding the class. (e.g. Is there anything unclear? What would they like to learn in the course?) Collect cards the cards and use the information to transition to the beginning of the next class or as a follow up email to the class. This communicates that you want and will respond to their feedback.
4. Get started!
While you will have a little less time than usual on the first day, give them a sample of what class will be like. Try to actively engage them in thinking about the subject the first day rather than just conveying logistical information. Try to find connections with what they know, or present the big questions you will try to explore in the class. By using these active learning strategies, you will establish patterns right away that are helpful in creating a positive learning climate.
I like this quote from an edition of Faculty Focus: “It’s the day in the course when it’s easiest for the teacher to genuinely smile. You have only good news to share, so let them hear it.” (Faculty Focus, 2015)