Why I teach on the first day of class


The semester is about to start. When your class meets for the first time, do you just go over syllabus, schedule, policies, and such? If you have some extra time, do you let your students go early or do you teach?

I teach, for a few reasons.

The preliminaries don’t take a whole class session. I’m done with the overview stuff in about half an hour. That means I have plenty of time left on the clock. A three-unit course only has 45 contact hours in a semester. I’m not going to squander away much of that time just by letting students leave early.

I particularly don’t want to waste time on the first occasion we meet. First impressions matter. The tone of the course — and the expectations of the students — are set quite early. (In K-12 teaching, the “first ten days” of the academic year are seen to be a critical time for both the instructor and the students.) I could use this time to let students know that they’re in for a serious classroom experience that challenges them to think as often as possible. I want students prepared to be challenged every time they come in the classroom. I can’t think of a better way of doing this than keeping them to the end of scheduled class.

Setting the tone as a serious straight-to-work kind of guy also makes my my own time management easier. Some of the more time-consuming, and annoying, parts of the job are dealing with unreasonable requests from students. Once my students know that I’m all about serious business when it comes to teaching, then they’re a lot less likely to attempt to occupy time with non-teaching related matters. I still need to be approachable to students, of course, because that’s a part of effective teaching. But if I give the impression that I’m loose with my time inside the classroom, they might think I’m just as loose when I’m outside the classroom. I’m busy, and my students are my highest priority, and want my students to know this. That means when instructional time is scheduled, I use it. This minimizes the chance that a student in my class will stroll by my office just to chat, without any specific purpose in mind. (As our majors outnumber tenure-line faculty by about 100 to 1, this is the only way I could get anything done.)

I teach when class is scheduled because it’s my job. There are very few specified expectations of my job as a professor, but one of them is to teach when I’m scheduled. That much is, at least in my view, the least I should be doing.

If you let your class go early, how does this work for you?

6 thoughts on “Why I teach on the first day of class

  1. classes that don’t start right off witht the beef bore me to tears. aint ya teaching this stuff cause it excites you proffessor?

  2. Preach it, Terry!

    As the creative writing instructors say, “Show, don’t tell!” I could spent the first class going over the syllabus, speechifying about how class participation counts and they reallyreallyreally need to do the reading before class because a lot of the class is based on discussion blah blah blah…but it’s a lot more effective to give them a chunk of text to read in class and to get them talking about it, to make them write about it and then trade responses to compare their ideas, to call on each student at least once, and to put them in small groups to talk to each other.

    Bonus: the students who were hoping for an easy gen. ed. get the picture and drop the class immediately rather than waiting to see their grade on the first writing assignment. There’s plenty of time to stress the key highlights of the syllabus on the second day of class. i don’t usually have to do more than that because the ones who decided to stick around have already taken a good look at it to make sure they won’t be over their heads, and they’ve already got questions.

  3. For the intro Ecology course I am TAing this fall, I will be teaching tutorials on the first day of classes, before the first lecture (which will definitely involve teaching). We’ll be jumping right in to experimental design, which should be fun, assuming anyone shows up! For some reason tutorials are usually cancelled for the first week at my University – I suppose on the grounds that there is nothing from the lectures to ‘go over’, because most instructors don’t teach on the first day. As an undergraduate, I always found it very frustrating to show up for a class and spend 20 minutes or so having the syllabus read through line by line and then being dismissed.

  4. I teach on the first day. In fact, I devote about 5 minutes at the end of class the first day to what I call “administrivia”. We hit the ground running with the subject matter as soon as I introduce myself. I try to plan activities that demonstrate what we’ll be doing in class throughout the term (group/pair work right away!) while hitting the “big picture” ideas as to why we’ll be studying what we’re studying. It sets a clear tone for the term, and I can’t imagine doing it any differently.

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