First Day of Class

Regardless of our level of experience, many of us still approach "the first day of class" with mixed emotions of anticipation and anxiety. Keeping in mind a few simple principles can ensure that this first-time encounter is enjoyable for both instructor and students and set a positive and productive tone for the rest of the semester.

  • Connect with your students on a human level. Although you may feel that you need to establish yourself as the expert on the course subject on the first day of class, your students are more likely seeking some understanding of who you are, your enthusiasm for the course, and how you will interact with them. Studies have shown that students are more motivated in courses in which they feel the professor is enthusiastic about the subject and values them as persons.
  • Convey your expectations clearly. Just as you walk into the first day of class wondering what your students’ expectations may be, so they are concerned with your expectations of them. Take time to clarify your expectations--whether in terms of time commitments, collaboration on assignments, prerequisite knowledge from other courses, or civility in class. Shared expectations contribute toward building an intellectual community free of anxiety and full of possibility for a satisfying, collaborative learning experience.
  • Commence the substantive work of the class. The goals of establishing a positive tone and being clear about expectations for the class can be exemplified by actually beginning the intellectual activity of the class. The first day of class is not the best time to overwhelm students with content; it is, however, an excellent time to get students thinking about the big questions in the field. Remember that many of those disciplinary questions are new to your students. You might give them an opportunity to discuss a common theme of the course, brainstorm in a group on a problem, or free-write on a topic that they’ll soon be reading about. These activities give students a context for and perspective on a subject they are not expert in, and can start them on their way to a more productive engagement with the course.

References and Further Resources

Davis, B. G. Tools for Teaching, Jossey-Bass, 1993, pp. 20-26.

McKeachie, W. J. Teaching Tips, Houghton Mifflin, 2002, pp. 21-28.

For additional pedagogical resources, visit the Graduate Students and Faculty webpages.