Navigating the First Day of Class
Preparation is more important than ever for the first day of class. The first day can set the tone for the rest of the course. The following information is intended to help the new TA have some idea what to expect and provide strategies to help them best navigate their first day. The agenda for the first day usually consists of three activities: taking care of administrative details (e.g., calling roll, handing out syllabi), meeting the students, and introducing the subject. If the teacher appears to be in charge, purposeful, and enthusiastic, the students will be more confident that the course will be a worthwhile investment of their time.
Click to expand the items below for practical strategies and best practices associated with each part of navigating the first day of class.
- Prepare the classroom. Be sure the classroom is unlocked, properly lighted, and clean. Be sure you have plenty of chalk or board markers, an eraser, and a clean board.
- Test the equipment beforehand, and arrive early to have computers and projectors ready for the start of class.
- Bring materials. Be sure that you have the preliminary class roll, copies of the syllabus, and any notes you will need.
- Arrive early, if possible, arrive early to prepare for the class and to meet students.
- Start on time. If you are prepared and ready to go when class time arrives, you will be off to a good start
Many students may still be “shopping around” for a course on the first day of class, so several may show up who have not registered for the course. By contrast, some students who have pre-registered may have changed their minds and will drop the course. Still others may become discouraged by their first day experience in another course and wonder whether or not they are supposed to be in your class in the first place. Regardless, you may expect to have your share of administrative details to handle during the first few days of the semester. Information on University policies and procedures for dropping or adding courses, auditing a course, and other administrative matters is included in the current editions of the University of Georgia’s Student Handbook and the Bulletin for undergraduate study. You can also read about drop/add and withdrawal processes online from the UGA Registrar’s office.
The first day sets the tone for the rest of the semester. As a TA, the first day is the time for you to begin to build relationships with your students and communicate your expectations for them and the course. Just like you might be anxious to meet your students, your students are probably eager to see what you are like. We have provided you with some strategies to get the most out of your first meeting with your students below; however, you are encouraged to build on these ideas and incorporate your own personality into your course.
Strategies for Meeting Your Students
Before the First Day
- Create a “Get to Know You” Create a questionnaire in advance or on the first day of class to get to know your students’ background. For example, ask them about their preferred name and pronouns, what they are hoping to learn in the class, their career goals, and so on. Use this information to help inform your interactions with them as the semester gets underway.
- Print current class roster. The instructor may print a current class roster from Athena. If you are not IOR, ask your supervising instructor to provide you with a copy of the role. Current enrollments are available on Athena and eLC throughout the semester. If you choose to call roll for the first class meeting, keep in mind that not all students in the class will be on the initial list.
On the First Day
- Start on time. Unless there is good justification for a delay (such as a change in the scheduled meeting place), it is advisable to start the first class on time. You will set a precedent for punctuality from the beginning, and you will establish a tone that will help students realize the importance you attach both to the course and to their time.
- Create name place cards. Invite them to decorate them in whatever way they’d like, as an opportunity to showcase their personality and interests along the way.
- Learn pronunciations and pronoun preferences.
- Share information about yourself with your students. For example, you might tell them about a pet, or mention an outdoor space you like to visit.
- Communicate location of office hours and communication preferences. List your office location, office hours, and mode of preferred communication (email address or telephone number) on the board. This information can also be summarized on a PowerPoint file. Although this information will also be listed in your syllabus, announcing it on the first day of class will give you another chance to make your students aware of your interest and accessibility to them during the course.
- Consider a strong opener. Some TAs opt for a strong opener for the first class. If you would like to open the class big, here are some questions to keep in mind:
- What do you hope to accomplish in your course?
- What are some of the more interesting questions or problems that your field addresses?
- Can you relate some aspect of your research or your discipline to your students’ lives?
- You may also want to tell your students something about yourself on the first day of class. What do you research? How did you first get interested in your field?
- Perhaps you can have each student to your office or a common area in your building for a five-minute chat. If the class is large, you might want to consider a seating chart, at least for the first few weeks.
Remember, your first class sets the tone for the rest of the semester. By presenting new material from the first day, this suggests to students that you are serious about making their time with you worthwhile and that you expect progress to be made in every session together. Don’t worry about the students who are still in the “shopping” for classes stage. They will have a better sense of how your class will be run if they witness how you teach. Many first-time teachers, as well as many experienced teachers who take on a new course, often find that they have prepared too much material for the first day, but it is always preferable to have too much rather than too little to do. Some start with the most important points to cover, and as time permits, will go into the details of those points. Others will delve into details only after they have allowed for student questions. In general, remember this: you know more than you think, and your excitement will be contagious.
It’s normal to be nervous before you teach. Even people who have taught for years find themselves getting nervous – especially before their first day of class, or when they try something they’ve never done before! These tips might help you manage and cope with your nerves:
- Practice doesn’t make perfect, but running through a presentation or lesson out loud a few times may help increase your confidence. If you can, try to do at least one dry run in front of an audience, even if the audience is just a friend (or even yourself in a mirror!).
- Concentrate on the ideas. Concentrate on the ideas you want to get across, not on your own nervousness. Even shy people speak up when it’s something they care about.
- Start Strong: You’ll be nervous at the beginning of the talk, so start with an introduction that will be easy to remember and that will relax you as well as the audience. You might even write yourself a script for the first few sentences, to help get you going.
- Visualize. Imagine what you’d like to say, how you’d like to say it, and a positive response from the audience. Many athletes use a similar approach by imagining an entire dive or jump in detail, before they actually do it.
- Use audiovisual aids or multimedia. Particularly if you have lots of technical information to cover, it can be reassuring to have key points and reminders already written on slides. Even just an outline on the board can reassure you that you won’t forget what you want to say. But remember to look at your audience, and not just at your notes or slides!
- Assume a confident attitude. To a large extent, you can control your own reaction to sweaty palms or a beating heart. Remind yourself that you’re prepared. Your attitude can determine how your students view you.
- Breathe. Right before the presentation, take a few moments to regulate and deepen your breathing. When it comes to public speaking, your breath is your main support. The moment you start to feel a case of nerves building up, take a deep breath. You will start to feel better immediately and your voice will convey your relaxation and confidence.