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The first day of class is an important time. This CDTL Brief on Preparing for the First Lecture/Class provides tips on pre-class preparations, ideas on approaching the first class session and hints in getting comfortable in front of the class.

July 2004, Vol. 7, No. 6 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Starting on the Right Track
 
Ma. Socorro C. Bacay
Senior Instructor, School of Management and Information Technology
College Registrar, DLSU-College of St. Benilde, Philippines
 

Preparing for the first lecture entails more than getting your materials or lecture presentation ready. It is also means preparing to meet your students for the first time and making a good impression. For the teacher, the first lecture is an initial attempt at creating an atmosphere of mutual trust, setting the tone for the rest of the term, marketing the course to motivate students to stay on and to actively participate in class, and inspiring students towards the achievement of mutually agreed upon goals and expectations. Clearly, the first lecture has far reaching consequences for the development of the course and, if not handled properly, the teacher may later experience difficulties in redirecting the course to its intended orientation.

The first meeting

Teacher and students alike come to class with mixed feelings—anxiety surrounding the uncertainty of what lies ahead and the anticipation of meeting new challenges. First impressions are created as psychological contracts, reciprocity of beliefs and expectations are formed. From the teacher-student and student-student interactions, students get to find out if the course is interesting and fun. So how do we deal with the first lecture?

Preparations

Be prepared. As first impressions are important, it is imperative for the teacher to come to class well prepared. There is nothing like a good preparation to give a teacher an aura of confidence, which in turn encourages trust and credibility. Memorising your students’ names will make it easier for you to eventually connect the names with the faces. If it is a small class, a seating chart is a good tool. In the case of a large class, ask each student to turn in at the next meeting, a 3 x 5 index card each with their photos and any other information that you may require from them.

There should be enough copies of the course syllabus to go around. Prepare a detailed and easy-to-understand calendar of activities for the course. Students can then refer to the ‘roadmap’ (course syllabus and calendar) for directions whenever needed. Make colourful and creative visual aids to attract attention and to improve retention of material discussed.

Set the tone

The first meeting should set the tone for the rest of the term. Start right. Discuss the course outline with the students. Explicitly explain to the students your expectations. Some teachers draw up a behavioural contract that students sign. This ‘contract’ details the house rules (e.g. class starts and ends punctually, cell phones must be turned off, due dates are to be strictly followed). In addition, the teacher may remind the students of the College or University’s academic policies, issues on intellectual property and ethics in research. Some teachers enter into a syllabus-based contract with the students.

Set high expectations and expect excellence from everyone. Your expectations of your students will affect how you conduct the classes. Expecting excellence from your students motivates you to come to class well prepared and motivated. However, low expectations hardly inspire the teacher and the students to do their best and realise their potential. If you expect your students to be active learners, get the students to participate actively on the first day. If your teaching strategy requires regular group discussions, allow the students some time to form their own groups.

Discuss the grading system and the course requirements. If your institutional policies allow for participative decision making, this is the best time to agree with the students on matters such as deadlines, number of test items, how often and even the weightage of each requirement. Students are more likely to obey rules they helped set up.

Establish credibility and market the course

Dress to impress. The way you dress creates an impression on your students. Some teachers prefer casual clothes to formal attire. You may dress according to your personal style so long as your dressing does not distract the students from the coursework and class activities.

Spend some time introducing yourself in a way that will not only create a good impression but also build rapport with the students. To establish credibility with your students, you might consider preparing a short PowerPoint presentation of your resume, emphasising your credentials, experiences and expertise in teaching the course. Remember that there are students as nervous as, or probably more nervous than you are on the first day of class. To ease the tension and enhance rapport with the students, share something personal about yourself, such as your educational philosophy, your inspirations as a teacher, your strengths, weaknesses and the like.

Motivate your students by showing enthusiasm for the course. Give the students an overview of how the course relates to other courses. Students are motivated to learn when they perceive what they are learning is relevant and applicable to their own lives. If you are teaching freshmen, impress upon the students the difference between high school and college courses, what college courses prepare them for and encourage the students to look forward to a career in their chosen field.

Get to know one another

As the class will be spending the rest of the term together, it is a good idea to include some activities for the students to get to know one another. ‘Getting to know you’ games or icebreakers facilitate classroom management and support related teaching strategies. The following are some suggested sites for icebreakers: http://www.angelfire.com/ks/teachme/firstday.html and http://www.kimskorner4teachertalk.com/classmanagement/icebreakers.html.

Students’ role

What is the student’s role on the first lecture? Students are held accountable and responsible for their own learning. Administer learning styles questionnaires. The results will help students manage their learning better and guide the teacher on teaching strategies he/she will need to employ to address all learning style needs. Allow active participation in the discussion of the course syllabus to help students raise any questions or clarifications. Break them up into groups and get each group’s representative to report to the class, what they find most interesting among the course topics, their learning expectations and ask them to suggest ways to enliven the conduct of the course and maximise student participation.

Concluding the session

The first lecture can conclude with a brief introductory lecture and the assigning of homework. A first lecture that is fruitful, interesting and fun should inspire the students to look forward to the next ones.

References

Baron, L. (2003). ‘The First Day of Class’. Teaching Topics—Quick Tips. The Academy for the Art of Teaching. Florida International University. (Last accessed: 24 November 2003).

Baugher, E. (2002). ‘The First Day of Class’ Teaching Tips for the College Professor. http://www.nactateachers.org/oldsite/teachingtips.html (Last accessed: 3 December 2003).

Davis, B.G. (1993). ‘First Day of Class’. Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey Bass. (Last accessed: 24 November 2003).

Fink, L. Dee. (1999). ‘First Day of Class: What Can/Should We do?’ Faculty Guidebook. Faculty Development. Honolulu Community College. (Last accessed: 21 November 2003).

Felder, R.M. & Soloman, B.A. (n.d.). Learning styles and strategies. (Last accessed: 22 November 2003).

Jaworsky, M. (1999). ‘New Students, New Semester: How to Remember Names and Faces.’ Faculty Guidebook. Faculty Development. Honolulu Community College. (Last accessed: 21 November 2003).

Ohta, T. A. (2003). ‘Tom’s Essential Survival Tips.’ Faculty Guidebook. Faculty Development. Honolulu Community College. (Last accessed: 21 November 2003).

Povlacs, J. T. (1999). ‘101 Things You can Do the First Three Weeks of Class.’ Faculty Guidebook. Faculty Development. Honolulu Community College. (Last accessed: 21 November 2003).

Wright, D. L. (1999). ‘The Most Important Day: Starting Well.’ Faculty Guidebook. Faculty Development. Honolulu Community College. (Last accessed: 21 November 2003).

‘The First Day of Class … A Day of Missed Opportunities?’ (1988). For Your Consideration. Center for Teaching and Learning. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Last accessed: 24 November 2003).

‘The First Day of Class.’ (1997). Office of Faculty and TA Development. The Ohio State University. (Last accessed: 21 November 2003).

The First Day of Class: Advice and Ideas.’ (2001). Adjunct Faculty Handbook: Resources for Teaching. Community College of Rhode Island. (Last accessed: 21 November 2003).

 
 
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Inside this issue
The First Class—Getting my Act together
   
Your First Class: Preparation and “Theatre”
   
Stimulating Student Interest in the First Lecture
   
Starting on the Right Track
   
Making or Breaking a Course—the First Lesson