By Dan Kimmel, Department of Sociology and Teaching Consultant at the Chicago Center for Teaching
Tasks, Activities, and Establishing Authority
The list below contains some suggestions for ways to handle the first day of teaching your own class. It is not comprehensive — every class will differ — but we hope it serves as a useful guide for strategies to make your first day successful and set the tone for a productive class.
Before the First Day:
- Finalize and review your syllabus. In addition to the course goals, readings, schedule, and other arrangements, be sure to include information like your email address, office address and office hours; the class title and number; where and when the class meets; the URL of the course website (if applicable); and any other relevant logistic or administrative information.
- If there are any readings the students need to do for the first day, or books they will need within the first two weeks, email them in advance to let them know.
- Print out copies of the syllabus to distribute on the first day — at least as many as there are students enrolled in your class, and probably another 25% above the current enrollment for those shopping around or trying to transfer in.
- Prepare yourself! If this is a new class, make yourself some notes and review them; if this is a class you have taught before, review the notes you made last time. Plan to use the whole time on the first day rather than letting students out early; put the time to good use.
- Print a copy of the class photo roster. Start familiarizing yourself with your students’ faces and names.
- Know the physical layout of your classroom. Find out if there is any flexibility for discussion and group work.
- If you plan to use technology in the classroom, such as projecting from your laptop, test the equipment beforehand to make sure you know how to operate it.
On the First Day:
- Arrive early. Dress professionally. Greet your students as they come in.
- Introduce yourself briefly and state the name of the class and course pre-requisites. Make sure that all the students are in the right place.
- Distribute the syllabus. Give students a chance to read it and ask questions.
- Announce the course description, objectives and learning goals so that the students have an idea what content knowledge and skills they will learn in your class.
- Be clear about your expectations for the class. This means clarifying what is on the syllabus, restating academic conduct, and also discussing your specific thoughts about what it will take to meet these demands successfully. If you are adamant about discussion participation, say so; if you put more emphasis on writing, make sure your students know that. Take the opportunity to set a tone for the class.
- Once everyone has had a chance to review the syllabus and ask questions, introduce yourself more fully. This is your chance to confirm your bona fides as a teacher-scholar and establish some clout and authority in the classroom. Talk about your research and experience. If you have taught the class before, say when and how often. If you have taught or TAed other related classes, mention those too.
- After establishing your credentials, give the students a chance to introduce themselves. If possible, try to devise an introductory activity that connects to the course topic. Collect baseline data on students’ knowledge and motivation. Learn as many students’ names as possible. This shows that you care about who they are.
- With any remaining time, you can either answer further questions, give them a taste of what the class is like with a small introductory lecture or exercise.
After the First Day:
- Be prepared to answer a lot of email from students wanting clarifications, or wanting to transfer in or out.
- Make concrete plans for the next few days of class. The first day is critical in setting a tone and establishing your authority, but the subsequent days are almost as important as well. Missteps on the first day can be overcome with strong follow-up. Maintain a consistent demeanor and try not to appear flustered or overwhelmed — even though you will be!
- Davis, Barbara Gross. 2001. “The First Day of Class.” Pp. 20-27 in Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Forsyth,Donelson 2003. “Prepping: Planning to Teach a College Class.” Pp. 9-47 in The Professor’s Guide to Teaching: Psychological Principles and Practices. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- “Tips for Teaching on the First Day of Class.” 2009. The Teaching Center. Washington University in St. Louis.