Your First Class

Before You Start Checklist

It goes without saying that you should locate your classroom well before the first class meeting.  Because the nature of your classroom can affect your teaching methods, you should address the following questions:

  • Where are the good vantage points for performing your duties (e.g., taking attendance, distributing materials, proctoring exams and quizzes, delivering your lectures)?
  • Are seats bolted down in a theater arrangement?  This may lead you to revise any plans to have students rearrange themselves during class.
  • Are there large chalkboards around the walls, a single board at the room’s front, a dry-erase board?  Will you need to secure chalk or markers from your department?
  • Is it a technology-equipped classroom?  If so, familiarize yourself with the equipment and those who support the technology if you are planning to use it for instructional purposes.
  • Will you be able to teach from behind a lectern or behind a table?  Will you have adequate space to move around?  If not, determine ways to rearrange classroom furniture.  Bear in mind, of course, you and your students should always leave the classroom as you found it, as a courtesy to the next teacher.
  • What is the location of the nearest faculty office in the building?  If there is an emergency in your classroom, you may need to know where to go for help.
  • What safety regulations apply in your venue of teaching?  If you are teaching in a lab, be sure to locate shut-off valves, glass disposal boxes, and other safety-related equipment. 

Before the first class, you should also find out how your department’s policies and organizational support will determine your teaching.

  • If you must miss class for an illness or emergency, whom should you contact?  Collegiality among fellow instructors will generally allow you to identify a substitute if necessary.
  • Know your department’s structure.  Who oversees undergraduate instruction?  Who can advise students considering a major in your department?  Is there an organization for undergraduates studying in the discipline?
  • Where does your course fit within the full catalog of undergraduate courses offered by the department?  Familiarize yourself with its role in satisfying any major or degree requirements.

The First Class Session Checklist
The first class is an opportunity to set the tone for the intellectual work that will be carried out in the course and to introduce the idea of the class as a learning community.  The following is a list of tips that may contribute to a successful first class meeting.  These are not prescriptions, but suggestions for founding an effective semester-long relationship that supports good teaching and learning.

  • Adopt the demeanor of a teacher while resisting undue familiarity or dictatorship.
  • Make a purposeful entrance.  If you want to achieve a more informal tone for the course, arrive a few minutes early and chat with students as they come into the classroom.  If you want to establish a formal tone for the course, arrive promptly.
  • Ask students about themselves.  You might ask them why they are taking your course, whether they have any prior knowledge or experiences that relate to the topics you will explore, what they would like to do when they graduate, and perhaps what their expectations of an undergraduate education are.  If your class is small, consider getting this information by going around the room and asking students to share these details aloud.  If your class is large, consider an exercise in which you present questions to the entire class and ask students to respond by raising their hands.  You might hand out index cards and have each student write one or two sentences about him or herself or have each student post a short biographical sketch on ELMS.  Of course, be mindful of student privacy.  The object of this exchange is to learn about the class and to stimulate self-reflection, not to interrogate or violate privacy.  Still, getting to know your students’ interests can help you prepare examples, materials, or case studies that will involve them and help connect students to the material of the course.
  • Review the syllabus, but avoid simply reading it.  You should describe the course’s goals, explain expectations and requirements for successful completion of the course, review the course format, and briefly describe any major projects.  Also invite students’ questions regarding the syllabus or course.  In addition to reviewing course details, try to give students a sense of what the course is about by introducing the subject and offering them an idea of what the class will be like.
  • Students benefit from understanding at the beginning of the course what the objectives are for the semester and how each assignment and assessment will contribute to achieving those objectives and to measuring their learning in the service of clearly stated goals.  The first class is an excellent opportunity to clarify long and short-term goals for the course, as well as providing context for how this course is important for their academic development at the University of Maryland.
  • For small classes, make a note of which students on the roster are present and the names of any students who are present but not on the official roster.  Before the first day of class, verify your department’s policy on un-enrolled or waitlisted students attending.
  • Consider having students make name cards to be used during the first few sessions until both you and your students learn everyone’s names.  Review student photographs available via UMEG.
  • Articulate protocols for communication.  Should students use your first name or title?  When will you be available for phone calls to your office?  Consider dedicating time to discussing appropriate email communication and tell students how long they should expect to wait for an email reply.