You don't need TΦ101 to tell you that the beginning of any event sets the tone for much of what is to come, and that certainly is true of your first class session. We have some general principles and some specific exercises.
Setting the stage. You will want to arrive early and be intentional about the tone of the classroom from the very beginning. For example, if you want your class to be warm and informal, you should be relaxed and friendly, greeting students as they come in and engaging in some conversation if the opportunity arises. You also need to think about what signal you want to send by the clothes you choose to wear.
Objectives for the first class. You have a lot to accomplish in this short period, so use the time carefully. Here are some possible goals for the first class (this is adapted from Erickson, Peters, Strommer 79).
- Introduce yourself, distribute materials, and tell the students something about the course.
- Learn something about the students. This might include having them fill out some sort of information card with something about themselves and contact information (including cell phone numbers). In a seminar class, you might ask permission to distribute some contact information at a later point to other members of the class, suggesting that anyone who is uncomfortable with this should contact you privately.
- Help students meet and connect with at least some of the other students in the class.
- Create a format where students will be talking during the first class.
- Have students actually discuss a philosophical question or issue in the first class.
- Don't spend a lot of time on the syllabus. TΦ101 is of the opinion that it is a waste of time to spend a lot of time on the syllabus during the first day of class. Actually, students should read the syllabus. One possibility is to hold off discussion of the syllabus until a later day, and ask students to do a brief assignment about the syllabus.
TΦ101 has a number of useful exercises and suggestions for the first day, including giving students a short questionnaire of philosophical topics, and asking them to discuss areas where they disagree, and an exercise using a text from the Sophists. The MERLOT ELIXR project is intended to develop and test new collaborations amongst faculty development centers and online resource repositories, and their website -- http://elixr.merlot.org/ -- has some very interesting materials on strategies for the first day of class. There is also a free website called "On Course" that has a lot of student success strategies and inventory tests that students can take. Some of these will help students focus on their own attitudes, and strengths and weaknesses.
Author: John Immerwahr
Update: June 1, 2010