Today is Opening Day for me. Counting occasional summer sessions, it’s about my 70th first day of class as a college professor. I still get excited, still get nervous. I don’t play competitive sports anymore, but I feel the same pregame sensation of needing both to drink and to pass water.
What do I hope to accomplish today in each of my classes?
First and foremost, I want to get my students excited about the subject we are about to spend four months studying together. That means I need to show them that I’m excited about it. Serene offhandedness and critical detachment—stances that we academics often adopt when talking about teaching with each other—ain’t gonna cut it with a group of undergraduates. If you’re not excited about what you’re teaching, what are the odds that they’re going to be?
Second, I want my students to know what to expect from me this semester—that is, why I have organized their course of study the way I have—and what I expect from them in the way of preparation, participation, work, deadlines, and attendance. Someone who has studied these matters once told me that college students will accept any rules of the road that you lay out in the syllabus and on the first day—it’s when you start changing things midstream that they rebel. All the more reason to be clear today.
Third, I want my students to know that I love them, not in any ooey-gooey way but in the sense of wanting them to flourish. I give them my home phone number and tell them that if they need to talk with me, I want to talk with them. If experience is any guide, none of them will call me at home but all of them will appreciate knowing they can.
Fourth, I want to create a sense among my students that when we gather for class, we’re on serious business. Not somber, not humorless, but serious, important. One way I do this (hardly the only way it can be done) is to wear a tie and, about half the time, a jacket as well.
Finally, a particular rule for classes smaller than 50: I will start learning their names and will know them all within two or three weeks. When I call the roll today, I will ask each student to correct me if I’m mispronouncing his or her name and to tell me what they like to be called.
Got any first-day ideas of your own that you’d care to share? Post them below.