There’s no discounting the importance of the first day of class. What happens that day sets the tone for the rest of the course. Outlined
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
climate for learning
I taught my first class in 1992. At the time, I was young, eager to teach, and woefully unprepared to deal with an 8:00 a.m. general education class at a mid-sized regional university. I naively anticipated walking into the classroom, putting down my stuff, and fielding provocative and interesting questions from students about the topics we were about to cover in our Introduction to Psychology course.
For the last 15 years or so, I have performed improv comedy in Chicago. During much of that time, I also taught English classes at Kendall College, a culinary and hospitality school. As you might imagine, my improv skills come in handy in the classroom. Here is a brief introduction for how the basic concepts of improv, when employed skillfully, help improve the classroom climate.
There’s only one first day of class. Here are some ideas for taking advantage of opportunities that are not available in the same way on any other day of the course.
I was the invited outside speaker at a professional development event for schoolteachers. The day’s lunch was preceded by a public prayer that inspired me to consider parallels in “callings to serve” that can be found in both education and religion. Sometime later, I happened to read a poem in a Jewish prayer book that expressed noble intentions for a worship space. The poem didn’t reference a particular faith—it was really just a set of intentions. Immediately, I thought of what professors hope for in their classroom spaces.
Dear professor, I am Chang [a pseudonym], an international student of your research class. I’d like to ask if I can use a recorder (only voice) in your class, because I’m afraid that I can’t understand class content at once.
This was an e-mail that I received before the first day of class, exemplifying the anxiety international students may experience as undergraduate/graduate students in a foreign country. My response to the student was to give it a try first and see if he could understand the course content or not. I also tried to comfort him by saying that all class materials would be posted on Blackboard. Guess what? The student did just fine in my class and never needed to record lectures.
Are there barriers to inclusion lurking in your courses?
After meeting at a diversity and inclusion session of the 2013 Professional and Organization Development Network (POD Network) Conference in Pittsburgh, the three of us set out to develop a tool to help faculty examine their courses through a diversity lens. We were driven by a lack of available resources that provide a practical approach to digging deep into the nuances of one’s course.
There’s no discounting the importance of the first day of class. What happens that day sets the tone for the rest of the course. Outlined below are a few novel activities for using that first day of class to emphasize the importance of learning and the responsibility students share for shaping the classroom environment.
I remember the first time I tackled the controversial subject of students as customers. It was in an in-house newsletter, well before the advent of the Internet and e-mail. Even so, I had numerous phone calls, memos, encounters on campus, and discussions about it in every activity the teaching center sponsored for the next year. I hadn’t even taken a side; I had simply listed arguments for both sides. But, as far as the faculty were concerned then and pretty much since, there aren’t two sides. Students are not customers. Tuition dollars do not buy grades. Education does not come with a money-back guarantee. And students don’t get to choose what they learn—well, they do, but if they don’t choose to learn what we require, the consequences are costly.
When it comes to connecting with students, good relationships and good rapport go hand in hand. The desired rapport develops when faculty are friendly, approachable, respectful, and caring toward students. And how do students respond to professors who’ve established good rapport? They “like” those professors, and that’s the point at which some of us experience a bit of nervous twitching. If students like us, does that mean they learn more? Does education hinge on the popularity of the professor? The ethical ground feels stronger if what students learn and take from their educational experiences results from actions that support learning. And that circles us right back to rapport and the powerful role it plays in determining how students respond to the content in our courses, their daily attendance, and the study time they devote to what we’re teaching. Student commitment to a course increases if rapport with the instructor is good. So, be nice, chat with students, and show that you love teaching.