Professor Meredith Miller
Professor of Law, Touro Law Center, NY
It is midnight and I am searching online for the perfect container to carry my lunch to school with me. Yes, it is that time in the cycle of the school year, and it is possible (more likely, certain) that I have channeled all of my anxieties about the upcoming semester of teaching into a quest for the perfect lunch container.
I have been teaching as a law professor for almost 15 years, so why does that first day of class still “scare, bewilder and excite”? Because it’s THE MOST IMPORTANT DAY. It is the day that sets the tone for the entire semester. In those first 5 minutes, I can lose all credibility and fail to build a rapport with the class. Wait, not 5 minutes, apparently I only have 27 seconds to make a good first impression.
It seems that the conventional wisdom for Day 1 is to exude enthusiasm, confidence and passion. But isn’t that true for every class?
After making sure my best suit is dry cleaned, my Day 1 approach is two-fold:
First, I take two minutes to show interest in my students. I start by having them each fill out an index card with information about themselves. I try to make them feel less anonymous, especially in bigger classes. I find I get the best effort from my students when we are able connect on a personal level.
Second, I get right into it. By this, I mean that I set the tone by delving right into the course material. I do save a few minutes at the end of the session to discuss the syllabus, rules and expectations. But not until after I have “jumped right in with two feet”:
I still haven’t yet figured out the best first class. On this subject, please feel free to leave thoughts and ideas in the comments.