You get only one chance to make a first impression.

In your first class meeting:

  1. Introduce yourself to the students and the students to each other.
  2. Answer students' questions and calm their anxieties about the course.
  3. Provide a sample of the course content.

Use the entire class period to accomplish these things. Begin on time and don't dismiss early—your class is important. Be prepared and be enthusiastic!

See Establish Your Classroom Culture for ideas on how to build on the success of your first day.

7 Common Concerns for the First Day

1. How do I begin?

The best way is also the easiest. Cheerfully greet your students as they enter the room and engage them in friendly conversation. If possible, be prepared (projector on, notes set) at least 10 minutes early so you can focus on your students.

Introductions are also good way to set the tone of the classroom for the rest of the semester.

  • Introduce yourself at the beginning of class. Include not only your academic background and interests, but also personal interests or hobbies that students can identify with.
  • It's more effective to have students form small groups and have them introduce themselves to each other. Going around the room holds very little interest for students.

Use this time to check the accuracy of enrollment rosters.

2. How can I learn my students' names?

Students are more motivated by teachers who know their students' names. Begin learning names on the first day, even if you have a poor memory for names. Below are a few strategies.

  • Ask students to bring in photos (with names clearly inscribed).
  • Take photos of groups of students on the first day. Make a key from the class roster and quiz yourself.
  • Ask students to choose a permanent seat so you can make a seating chart. If they object, explain it's to help you learn their names.
  • Divide and conquer. Learn names of students in small groups.

For more ideas about how to remember names, and other ways to help students feel part of a learning community instead of an anonymous face, see Learning Students' Names.

3. How can I get to know my students?

The more you learn about your students—their strengths and weaknesses, their skills and interests—the better you can teach them.

  • If your class is small, you can make appointments with each student during the first week or two of class to interview them about their skills, interests and needs.
  • Give the class a non-graded pre-test on prerequisite topics and include some questions about topics you don't expect them to know now, but that you'll cover in the course. You'll be able to see how much remediation is needed, and how familiar they are with course content.
  • Ask students to write a non-graded essay on some aspect of the course about which you assume they know something. Their essays will provide a quick measure of their knowledge and of their writing skills.

4. How do I communicate my expectations to students?

Come to class prepared with a well-developed syllabus and a plan to present it to your students. You should anticipate common student concerns, such as:

  • How will the final grade be determined?
  • How much weight will be given to assignments and exams?
  • What will the exams be like?
  • What are the required readings? Where are they available?
  • What are your policies on attendance, missed or late work, academic integrity, extra credit, etc.?
  • How will you communicate with students outside of class?
  • What are your office hours?

Show students copies of the textbook, manuals, and other materials. After students obtain books, take time to orient them to the kind of information you expect them to glean.

5. How do I present a course overview?

Provide a brief outline of the material to be presented in the course. Explain how this course complements the rest of the curriculum. Highlight those topics that are most interesting to you, and ask your students what topics pique their interests. Plan an activity by which students learn about the nature and scope of questions the course is intended to answer. For example:

  • A short presentation or a discussion on a course topic that students should know something about
  • Show a short film related to course content followed by a discussion

6. How do I deal with registration problems?

Don't take class time to resolve registration problems. Talk to those students after class. If applicable, invite affected students to attend classes until registration problems

If your section is closed, decide ahead of time whether you want to sign Permission to Enter Closed Course forms.

7. How do I motivate students?

If you want students to work to their full potential, you need to think of ways to enhance their motivation for learning, which depends on three interrelated factors:

  • Appreciation of the value of the learning experience— ("What's in it for me?" or "How can I use this information?")
  • Expectation of success—("Will I be able to learn the skills in this course?" or "Will I be able to make the grade I want in this course?")
  • Belief that performance is related to rewards—("How much work will I have to do to get what I want from this course?")

As you do this, remember to show, not tell. For example, illustrate the ways students will directly benefit from mastering the course material. Provide specific examples of how the course material will be useful for different majors, their general education, or in their future careers.

By drawing attention to your reasonable criteria and fair procedures for earning course grades, you can show students they can succeed with a reasonable amount of work on their part—that rewards will be meaningfully related to performance.

If you address these issues in the first class meeting, you'll be off to a good start and both you and your students will benefit. Now continue to establish your classroom culture.