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UIC TA Handbook - The First Day of Class
By Julia Fish
Professor Emerita and UIC Distinguished Professor Emerita of Art
School of Art and Design
UIC College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts
First impressions do count, and, despite the best preparation, first day jitters and jangling nerves can still prevail. Even experienced teachers confide that they, too, have a case of nerves on the first day -- it's to be expected. But you can leverage your concerns to good purpose with some advance planning.
- Visit your classroom in advance.
- Get a feel for the place; how will you work with the classroom space? Determine whether you can re-organize it for your use if needed (and easily return it to the original arrangement after each class).
- Check-out the basics: lights, chalk for the board, essential equipment, etc.
- Note to bring anything you'll need the first day.
- If it is a large hall, you may even want to test your voice for acoustics! Or try sitting in the last row and determine whether your chalk-board or overhead writing is legible from that distance.
On the First Day
- Timing your arrival can set a tone for the course. Arriving early and engaging in informal conversation with a few of the students can allow you to feel more at ease when you do begin the class. Arriving just before the class begins can signal punctuality and seriousness to your students. Realize that what you do the first day should make you feel comfortable. Do not be late!
- If there is a chalk board, write your name, course title and section number on the board. This will allow anyone arriving to make sure that they have found the right class. If there is no chalkboard, you can post the same information on the door or near the entry. This can save late arrivals or 'lost' students from having to interrupt you to ask which class I section is meeting.
- Use the syllabus as a guide for the first day's introductory remarks. Even if you have outlined the requirements and course objectives in writing, it is important to go over that material orally during the first session. This will give you an opportunity to personalize some of the information; be sure to allow time for questions or clarifications as you proceed through the written syllabus.
- Introduce yourself and tell the class how you want to be addressed by name; tell the class something about your self, your interest in, and relationship to the subject you've been asked to teach. Convey your enthusiasm for the course using your own words.
- Speak slowly and in a strong voice, and ask if you can be heard! Bring something to drink for the possible moment when your mouth gets dry.
- Review the class roster and I or ask the students to introduce themselves if class size permits. You may want to ask each student to say something about him I herself, for example, other interests, plans for major area of study, expectations for the course, etc.
- If it is a large class, ask them to introduce themselves to at least two students sitting near them.
- Have extra copies of syllabi & materials for those enrolling late.
- Outline available resources on campus relevant to the course; remember that some, or all, of your students could be new to UIC. If you are new to campus yourself, this is an important area to research. Ask your department Chair or TA advisor, or someone in the department to assist you. There may be special study collections in the library, or resource centers particular to your course or subject matter. Familiarize yourself with the several learning assistance centers; for example, ESL - English as Second Language courses etc. are resources with which you should be familiar.
- Describe any special activities planned for the course, and alert students to possible off-campus travel I field trips etc., even if dates for such activities are not yet confirmed.
- If time allows, plan to cover some course material during the first class session; this allows the students to get an idea of your teaching approach and a sense of the course. This is a good way to check assumptions and misconceptions about the course. For example:
- Work through a problem together.
- Give them an introductory "quiz" or a questionnaire that includes some of the information that the course will cover. After allowing time for them to complete the exercise, ask for a few responses.
- A multiple choice hand-out including more than one "correct" answer could start a discussion about the important aspects of the course subject -- and perhaps even introduce some useful contradictions.
- Learn your student's names -- remember how important this was to you.
- Depending on the size of the class, this may be relatively easy or truly challenging.
- If class size permits, call the roll each class session, and make eye contact after you call each name. Try to call on students using their names-- and ask for their patience as you try to remember them.
- If possible, schedule at least one office appointment with each student during the first several weeks of the semester.
Depending on the course you are teaching, it may be helpful to survey your students for other courses they are currently taking, or subjects within the department which they have previously studied. (3 x 5 index cards are good for this.) Such information can give you a sense of their experience with courses in your field, and can allow you to establish connections to concepts or ideas in related disciplines. (The second or third class session is a good time for this, as everyone's schedule is in flux the first week.)
Finally, relax and try to enjoy yourself. You will survive the first day; we all do!