Well I just completed my first two days of class for the fall semester. Not that long ago I was enjoying a vacation over the fourth of July…and all of a sudden here we are just about at the end of the first week of the semester. The first day of the semester brought with it one Intro Psych class and a whole bunch of meetings. Day two brought another Intro Psych class, a lab meeting, and my very first senior seminar.
In general, I would describe my approach to the first class periods of the year as relaxed. Here at Butler, we tend to start our semesters on Wednesdays, which means our first week is pretty short. I am of the mindset that the first day of class should be used to establish two things: 1. the atmosphere I hope to maintain in the classroom across the entire semester and 2. rapport with my class. Admittedly my classes do not do much of anything serious or scholarly during the first meeting. I begin each new semester by playing some funny videos off of YouTube. I have found that a great way to make people comfortable in a new and potentially uncomfortable setting is to get them to laugh. Videos of ‘dad joke battles’, ‘puppies’, or ‘try not to laugh’ compilations are big hits. After showing a couple videos, I introduce myself with a slideshow filled with pictures from my life before allowing students to ask me any and all (appropriate) questions so they can get to know me a bit better. Something that is really important to me is getting to know my students’ names as quickly as possible, so during the first class period every time a student talks they must introduce themselves to me (until I can start calling on them by name). It is always my goal to have all of my students’ names down by the end of the second class.
Once they are done asking me questions I have a few easy questions for them to answer, such as “what was the best movie you saw over break?”, or “where did you travel over break?”, etc. Then, after the class has been speaking for a while (which they always tend to do) I jump in to let them know that this is the kind of participation I would love to see continued throughout the rest of the semester. At this point I transition into discussing my expectations for the class, mostly that I have high expectations, but with some hard work and discipline students can learn quite a bit in my class and receive an excellent grade.
It is usually not until about 45 minutes into our first session before I hand out the syllabus. When handing out the syllabus I ask students to group up in order to meet a few of their new classmates and to spend 15 minutes working through the syllabus together. After the 15 minutes are up, one person from each group has to do two things: 1. state the most important part of the syllabus (in their opinion) and 2. ask the most pressing question the group still has about the syllabus. By covering the major question from each group with the entire class we are usually able to touch on all of the important aspects of the syllabus. If a group does not ask about part of the syllabus that I think needs to be attended to I will try to steer the conversation in that direction, but for the most part this is a student led enterprise (which is exactly how I try to structure the majority of my classes). I prefer this approach to covering the syllabus because the students generally do a great job communicating with one another and answering each other’s questions about the syllabus, which serves to show them that speaking and responding to their classmates is rather easy to do. I then tell the class that we will continue to engage in small-group discussions frequently throughout the semester.
As you can see, my approach to ‘teaching’ in the first week does not actually have much to do with teaching any material. Instead, I focus on establishing a connection with the students in my class and utilizing some teaching techniques that I will call upon later in the semester. My goal for the first week is to form a comfortable, welcoming, and energized atmosphere in the hopes that we can maintain that atmosphere and have an excellent semester. In this way, by the second class I think both myself and my students are excited for what is to come in the semester and are ready to get into new material.
written by Brian Day