The First Day
It's your first
teaching position and you've got butterflies in your stomach. Or
maybe you've been teaching for years, and you've still got butterflies.
They come because you care about what you're doing-not to mention the thrill
of performing before a group. In fact, the first day of a course is exciting
and anxiety-provoking for everyone. How do you take advantage of that excitement,
inspire your students, and reduce anxiety? It's traditional to begin by
discussing course requirements and perhaps even to cut the first class short,
but is it a good idea? Does such a beginning tell your students why they
should become excited about your course, or why you spend most of your waking
hours studying this discipline? Does it tell them about how you teach or
how you'll approach the subject matter? On the contrary, it tells them only
the course outline and how to procure a grade. Here are some techniques
to get your course off to a productive and stimulating start.
by Tom Cogill.
the First Day
the first day, think about your discipline and why students should be interested
in it. Know that students tend to see the first day as a microcosm of the
entire course. So, if you will want them eventually to participate, think
creatively, work effectively in groups, and so on, incorporate such activities
into the first class.
as appropriate, a short lecture, discussion questions to raise students'
awareness, or a quick review of information from the previous course
in a sequence. If possible, link your topic to students' daily lives:
how a recent news event relates to your history course or why the language
you teach appears in American advertisements.
- Be ready
to summarize and answer questions about the syllabus and course requirements
(see "Preparing a Course").
what you want to learn about your students and how best to discover
it. Use small group discussions, individual conversations, information
sheets, or games (see Magnan, 1989, for specific ideas). Plan to talk
with your students before class to put everyone at ease, and meet them
person-to-person, not teacher-to-student. The more you know about your
students, the more easily you can communicate with them.
a first assignment.
- Visit the
assigned room ahead of time, and visualize you and your students in
the First Day
your plan to teach the first day:
- Arrive early.
Distribute or write on the board the course title and number and your
name as you'd like to be called. Arrange the chairs in an appropriate
configuration (a semi-circle, for example), if possible.
- Teach a
real class the first day. Start on time, and use all of your allotted
time, sending a clear message that you take the course seriously. Show
why your discipline is exciting; involve students with the course substance
from the moment you meet. Your course is more than a bare-bones syllabus
and set of requirements!
- Get to
know your students and tell them something about yourself, your research
interests, your background.
names from the class list before the first day; in class, attach
faces to names.
the roll the first few days, soliciting proper pronunciations and
nicknames. Use and learn as many names as possible-go ahead and
make mistakes! o Encourage students to learn each others' names.
students complete an information card or sheet with name, address,
phone number, previous study in your discipline, reasons for taking
your course, hobbies, and any other appropriate information.
- Or request
for the next class a one-page self-description; you'll be surprised
at what they write and will see how much students want teachers
to know them.
- If you
find it hard to learn names, ask students to note a particularly
salient identifying feature.
photos or ask permission to have a helper photocopy students' IDs
during class. Since people tend to sit in the same places, you might
find it helpful to make a seating chart.
your information sheets between meeting times, and use them to recall
participants' names when they contribute and during roll call. Eventually
the faces and names will come together.
- Ask for
students' questions and concerns.
engagement in the course by involving students with the syllabus, rather
than simply "going over" it. Ask them to think about and discuss
their expectations of the course. Or ask them to read the syllabus and
write three questions they have. Or ask them to discuss with a peer
what seems most interesting or challenging about the course.
- Show what
kind of an instructor you are. Consider what students seem to appreciate
most in teachers: enthusiasm and willingness to make the course worthwhile,
objectivity (what students most often call "fairness"), and
a sympathetic attitude toward their problems (McKeachie, 1999). Begin
to show your students that you have these characteristics (see also,
"Your Multiple Roles").
liberal education is at the heart of a civil society, and at the heart
of a liberal education is the act of teach.
Bartlett Giamatti, Former President,Yale University,
Former Commissioner, Major League Baseball
Six Ways to Handle Nervousness
Although practice may not make perfect, doing a
presentation out loud several times before the
real thing will make you feel more confident,
especially if you practice under conditions as
close to the actual situation as possible. Make
yourself do at least one dry run in front of an
audience, even if it's just a friend or spouse.
on the Ideas
Concentrate on your ideas, not on your own
nervousness. Even timid people speak up when
it's something they care about. Think about your
audience's needs, not your own.
a Strong Start
You'll be the most nervous at the beginning of
the talk, so start with an introduction that will be
easy to remember and that will relax you as well
as the audience.
Rehearse for your first presentation by actually
visualizing how it will go. Imagine what you'd like
to say, how you'd like to say it, and a positive
response from the audience. Many athletes use a
similar approach by imagining an entire dive or
jump, in detail, before they actually do it.
Particularly if you have lots of technical information
to cover, it can be reassuring to have some of
it already written on transparencies or in an
outline on the board.
a Confident Attitude
To a large extent, you can control your own
reaction to sweaty palms or a beating heart. Tell
yourself you're "psyched," not nervous. Remember
that to an audience nervousness can seem
like dynamism or energy. Your attitude will
probably determine what the audience thinks.
(Used with permission from Teaching at Stanford,
Center for Teaching and Learning, Stanford, California, 1989.)