Today I taught my two literature classes for the first time, one a lower-division class, and one a class in my field of specialty. This means that I'm now officially done with my "first class of the semester" in each of my classes. And this year, as in others, I have yet to answer the question:
How is it possible to take care of all of the business that needs to be taken care of on the first day of the semester (a) while at the same time appearing to be an interesting instructor (b)?
I know, I know....
1. Don't just read the syllabus.
But I don't just read the syllabus. I do go over the highlights of it, i.e., what makes up the grade, but I do not read the entire thing to them like it's a bedtime story.
2. Do something that "shows" them who you are as a teacher, rather than just "telling" them a bunch of stuff.
Ok, I try. I really do. The problem is, it's difficult to "show" who you are as a teacher when they've not yet completed a reading assignment. Oh, and don't even tell me I should bring in a short reading assignment and then have them read it and do an activity and then we'll all talk about it. I've heard it all before, and you know what? There just isn't time to do justice to that crap while at the same time announcing all of the shit I need to announce. I've tried it before - and I've always felt like I was both half-assing the "non-boring activity" as well as the announcement portion of things. And you know what else? I suspect that on the first day, students find all things you try - whether innovative or no - boring or hostile or both. I mean, I'm taking away the summer from them! I'm a mean lady!
3. Don't overwhelm the students by handing out all of the assignments they will complete in the semester.
I didn't do this in all of my classes, but I had to do it in my upper-division one. Why? Well because how are they supposed to know what to pay attention to in our library instruction session if they don't know what their assignments will be? And how will they understand how all of the work of the course fits together unless they see it all together? And who says that being overwhelmed isn't educating in itself?
4. Don't lecture.
Except see my earlier comment about it being very difficult not to lecture when the students a) have little or no familiarity with the material or aims of the course b) have done absolutely no reading and c) don't yet know me and so don't really want to participate. And how else does one give certain kinds of important information without lecturing?
So here I am, and once again I'm not especially pleased with how my "first" classes have gone. I suspect that this will be something that I struggle with from now until I finally hang it up and stop being a teacher. Though maybe it would make more sense just to get over the whole thing and to accept that I will always bore and overwhelm my audience on the first day, knowing that I don't bore and overwhelm them on subsequent days? Except of course I do overwhelm them on subsequent days sometimes, and even bore them, too, but usually not at the same time. I just wish that I could be exciting and fun and innovative on the first day - not an easy thing to do when one has to be sure to communicate things about disability services, take attendance (or face the wrath of the federal government), and hand out about a thousand things.
5 years ago