We remember our firsts. I remember my daughter's first steps, we were at the children's museum in Brooklyn and she defied gravity on her own to cross a space and come to me. I remember the first time I traveled alone. I went to Amsterdam. When the airplane landed and I set foot on a new continent, I felt like an explorer. I remember my first car, it was a Ford Pinto, you know, the ones that were famous for exploding in a rear impact collision. I didn't care, I was 15, I bought it with my saved up babysitting money, and I had it painted blue. Luckily it didn't blow up and I lived to remember it.
The point is, firsts are important. The first day of your class (even if it is your 200th class) is important.
1. Arrive Late
First, do not arrive to class late. Make sure you get into the classroom before the students do and have everything all set up when they get there. This shows that this is your classroom and you take it seriously. This is easier in some situations than others. Today for example, I have to travel 2 hours by train to get to a classroom I have never seen before on a campus I have never visited. This is not ideal by any means, but since I don’t know where I am going, I am going to give myself lots of extra time and just bring a book with me to read if everything goes smoothly. If not, I will have time to sort out any problems that may come up.
Being late to class shows that you do not value class time or indeed, your students’ time. As a student who is always punctual, I appreciate a class that starts on time. I appreciate it even more if the teacher has set up something for us early people to do or listen to. I had a Spanish teacher once who would put music on 10 minutes before class start and write down the name of the artist who was playing on the board. I loved coming in early just to listen and become familiar with music I had never heard before. I still own some of the albums I bought because of those before class minutes.
I remember another professor who was excellent in many many ways but on the first day of class, all of us students were seated at tables and the appointed class time came and went. We were all looking around at each other thinking that maybe this was some kind of suspense building opening to the class but no, he had misplaced his notes and was running back and forth between the classroom and his office looking for them. We all sat for 20 minutes before he found them. Luckily he was an excellent professor and to this day I remember his classes fondly, but that was a rocky start.
2. Read the Syllabus to the Class
Have you even been in a presentation in which the presenter puts up a Power Point or gives a handout and proceeds to read it? These are usually the worst presentations to sit through. Don't do this to your students on the first day! Syllabuses (syllabi?) are great things to have for your students as they contain vital information about how to contact you in case of confusion or an emergency. They give an overview of the class and what will be expected of the students, but let’s face it, most of them are not gripping literature. The dry nature of the syllabus becomes even worse when a teacher stands up in front of the class and reads it. That is just an invitation for students to stare out the window and think about lunch plans. You want your students to be focused on how great your class is going to be. Here are some ideas for how to make the presentation of your syllabus more engaging.
Don’t start your class off on a boring note. The first day of class is like the first page of a book, if it doesn’t hook you, you may never become engaged in it.
For tips on how to create a syllabus, including a template Jennifer Gonzales has written a great post for Cult of Pedagogy.
3. Put up a Stern, Unfriendly Front
I have heard it said that you should not smile until Christmas (this is for a class that starts in September). You must show your students that you mean business and this will cut down on discipline problems supposedly.
I like to take the opposite approach. I usually smile a lot and try to make myself as open and friendly as possible. I encourage students to ask me questions, not just about class but about my life and my ideas. I want them to feel that if they have a problem, they can come to me and I will try to help them out. I do this not just because I generally really like students and want them to enjoy my class, but also because in Japan, if a student is unhappy they will either go to someone else to complain about the class or they will simply disappear. While disappearing makes my class sizes smaller and cuts down on grading, it is not what I want.
If a student signed up for my class, they had some kind of reason for doing so, some goal that they wanted to reach. I want them to reach that goal and not be scared off or discouraged. Also, if students come directly to me, I can explain things and they don’t have to rely one a third party who may or may not know the answer.
Yesterday I had my first class with one of my listening/speaking sections and after filling out a questionnaire about their knowledge and experience with technology, a student came running up to me in the hallway and asked if she was going to have to post public videos on YouTube. She was super worried that everyone would be able to see her videos and I was able to reassure her that in the following lesson I would show them how to change the settings on the video so that only the people they share it with can see it. She was greatly relieved and went away happy. I would have hated for her to say nothing and drop out of class just because she was afraid to ask me that question!
4. End Class Early
It is tempting to end the first class early because students have not started to do any homework yet, they may or may not all be there, and you don’t want to start anything too important until all of your students are registered.
I don’t like to finish that first class early though because it sends the signal that you do not think that every minute of the time they spend in class is valuable. For a student, the first day of class is an exciting day. They probably thought about what they were going to wear. Worried about if they would know anyone and if they should sit next to someone or alone.
hey probably came to class either hoping you, the teacher would notice them or that you would totally not notice them. Students are generally nervous and on their best behavior that first day and you have their undivided attention. Use this to your advantage to get them started doing something meaningful, communicative and active that is directly related to the content of your course. I like students to leave the first day of class thinking, wow, I learned something and enjoyed it, I can’t wait to come back.
I don’t want them to leave class thinking, mmmmm well, at least it was easy and I didn’t have to do much.
5. Explain Everything in the
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