CTE Number 1 September 1996
How you spend the first day of class will set the tone for the entire course. Many teachers devote the first class meeting to giving a general description of the course and its requirements and after answering questions, either begin to lecture or dismiss the class early. But there are many important things you can do on the first day that will help establish rapport with the students, prepare them for the course's work, and generate excitement about the subject matter.
Research shows undergraduates want to know two kinds of information on the first day of class. First, they want to learn as much as possible so they can decide whether to stay in the course and so they can estimate the work requirements for the entire course. Second, they are curious about the teacher as a person. They want to know if you will be reasonable and fair, if you care about them as individuals, and if you care about the course itself.
A well written syllabus, distributed during the first class, promotes a positive attitude in students, because it shows the teacher cares about the course and has made an effort to plan it carefully. A syllabus should contain course goals, topics, texts, grading and examination procedures, reading assignments, attendance policy, and your office location and appointment hours. Comments you give in class about the textbook are important since students are judging if they need to buy it and how closely they will have to read it. Stressing your availability during office hours and lingering after class to answer questions and deal with problems both suggest your accessibility.
The first day of class affords a variety of opportunities to establish rapport with your students and to provide the kinds of information you and they want in that initial class. By meeting these needs, you can increase their motivation and achievement and enhance your own effectiveness.
End of First Class exercise
Ask students to take the last two minutes of the first class and write down unsigned their impressions of what went well and what questions they still have about the course. This exercise shows students you are willing to learn from them and lets you review them to see if some unasked questions need to be addressed during the next class.
In this first number of Teaching Tips we have offered a few suggestions but there are many others.