First day of class: Breaking the ice

Since classes begin in less than a week, for the benefit of both experienced and new faculty, we thought it would be useful to have a few posts regarding things we deal with on the first day(s) of the semester. We hope to tackle some of the regular issues instructors deal with and provide examples of varied tips, techniques and activities that might be useful in the early semester classroom.

On the first day of class, I walk in ten to fifteen minutes early, carrying my backpack and wearing something casual, such as a t-shirt and shorts (fall) or a casual shirt and jeans (spring). I pick a seat somewhere near the back of the class, ensuring that I will be behind most of the students (which is easy to do unless the seats are in a circle or rectangle).

Then I wait and observe, watching the students as they enter, pick seats, talk among themselves, and wait for the instructor to show up (since they assume, due to my location, that I’m a student too). If I’m there well ahead of time, I may pull out the syllabus and/or one of our books and look at it. Sometimes, friendlier students introduce themselves to me, or someone asks to look at my syllabus/book, or a student asks for information or says something funny that I respond to, so I might be talking to some of them for a bit.

I usually give it a couple of minutes past the time class is supposed to start, to give late students a chance to arrive, and to get a sense of who the impatient and/or fidgety students are. Then I stand up and say something like, “Well, I might as well get us started.” As people turn to stare, I add, “Hello. I’m the guy who has been emailing you and will be inflicting myself on you for the rest of the semester. Welcome to [insert name here].” And the students start laughing and talking as I walk over to the front of the class, sometimes pausing to say something to a student I overheard, such as, “Since you were wondering—yes, I am male. And I’ll tell you how to pronounce my name in just a minute.”

If I’m really lucky, as has happened a few times, I’ll be reaching the desk when someone runs in, sees me nearby, and blurts out, “Hey, man! Is the teacher here?” At which point I get to put my things on the desk and say, “Well—I am now!” which usually causes the rest of the class to utterly lose it.

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