Making the Most of the First Day of Class

The first day of class is an important time. In addition to the usual housekeeping tasks that need to be accomplished, there are other critical functions – not the least of which involves setting the tone for the course.

Mary C. Clement, an associate professor of education at Berry College, shares her thoughts on the importance of establishing expectations for a semester of learning.

Q: What should an instructor try to accomplish during the first day of class?
Clement: You only get one chance to start the semester. During that first day, the instructor needs to arrive early, have a “today we will” on the board/screen, and work to ensure that students get in the right room. Students need to feel welcome and to get an overview of the course. The instructor needs to have introductions, provide a syllabus and instructions for the course, and yes, to teach something. The most important thing to do the first day is to establish the procedures for the rest of the semester.

Q: What effect can a good first day have on the rest of the semester?
Clement: The first day sets the tone for the semester. The instructor needs to be organized, welcoming, and business-like. In essence, the first day, and the first week, win the students. Students need to feel that the course is worth their time and tuition, and they need to know what they have to do to learn the material and pass the course.

Q: Some instructors do not use all of the time available for the first day of class. Do you recommend taking the full class period for the first meeting? Why or why not?
Clement: I think that using every minute of the first class is essential. The class should begin and end on time, signaling that this class is important, the material is important, and that the instructor is prepared. The instructor should definitely teach something of importance on the first day. Professors can make this introductory material important and engaging. Students should also DO something the first day, such as complete an interest inventory and/or participate in at least one or two short discussion questions. Every moment is a teachable moment, and the first day sets the tone for teaching the entire semester.