The first day of class is your opportunity to present your vision of the class to prospective students. It is helpful if you can introduce yourself as a scholar and educator and provide insight into how you will teach the class and what you will expect them to contribute to the learning process.
Consider that several of your students may be “shopping” for a schedule the first week of classes. They may be looking for a class that will fill a particular time slot, include a particular learning environment (i.e. lab-based or lecture style), or a class with a certain workload to balance the demands of their other courses and extra-curricular responsibilities. Thus, students will appreciate a clear roadmap of what you will require of them over the course of the semester. You may also want to model, as specifically as possible, the classroom environment you intend to foster during the class. For example, if they will spend a good deal of time doing group work over the course of the semester, you may want to break them into groups the first day.
“Professors who established a special trust with their students often displayed the kind of openness in which they might, from time to time, talk about their intellectual journey, its ambitions, triumphs, frustrations, and failures, and encourage students to be similarly reflective and candid.”
–From the chapter “How Do They Treat Their Students” in Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do (Harvard Press, 2004), available in the CFT Library
The point of an introduction is to establish yourself as a unique individual sharing the classroom with other unique individuals. Other than providing your name and the name of the course you’re teaching, here is some information you may consider sharing:
This is your opportunity to focus on students as unique and diverse individuals. Consider how introductions can lead into a productive and welcoming classroom environment. Instead of just asking general questions concerning their name, major, and years at Vanderbilt, ask them questions that are pertinent to the subject and the atmosphere you want to build through the semester. Here are some examples:
This may also be a good time to give your students an exercise that enables teachers to assess the state of their students’ previous or current learning. Examples of these Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) can be found on our Web site, but include the following.
As your students are introducing themselves and you are talking to them, ask your students to comment on the acoustics and remain conscious of how well you can hear and see each of them. Consider, with their input or alone, how you would change and optimize the seating arrangement. At the end of the introductions, ask them to move to optimize communication and make note of unexpected needs for a microphone, lighting changes, seating arrangements or other environmental controls.
“What happens between you and your students in your classroom or lecture hall depends largely on what you want to happen. How you treat each other and how you and your students feel about being in that place with each other is modeled and influenced by you.”
–From the chapter “Classroom Contracts–Roles, Rules, and Expectations” in David W. Champagne’s The Intelligent Professor’s Guide to Teaching (Roc Edtech, 1995), available in the CFT Library
“By giving students an interesting and inviting introduction, I was able to reduce anxiety about the course and help students view the class as a collaborative learning process. Every field has its own exciting research or striking examples, and it is a good idea to present a few of these up front. The teaching challenge is to find special ideas within your own field. Your class will thank you.”
–From “How to Start Teaching a Tough Course: Dry Organization Versus Excitement on the First Day of Class” by Kevin L. Bennett, in College Teaching, 52(3), 2004
Angelo, T. A., and Cross, K. P. Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. (2nd ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.
Erickson, B. L., and Strommer, D. W. Teaching College Freshmen. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1991.
“The First Day of Class: Advice and Ideas.” Teaching Professor, 1989, 3(7), 1-2.
Johnson, G. R. Taking Teaching Seriously. College Station: Center for Teaching Excellence, Texas A & M University, 1988.
McKeachie, W. J. Teaching Tips. (8th ed.) Lexington, Mass.: Heath, 1986.
Scholl-Buckwald, S. “The First Meeting of Class.” In J. Katz (ed.), Teaching as Though Students Mattered. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, no. 21. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1985.
Serey, T. “Meet Your Professor.” Teaching Professor, 1989, 3(l), 2.
Weisz, E. “Energizing the Classroom.” College Teaching, 1990, 38(2), 74-76.
Wolcowitz, J. “The First Day of Class.” In M. M. Gullette (ed.), The Art and Craft of Teaching. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984.