How to Foster Success on the First Day of Class


We all know there is only one opportunity to make a good first impression. And, interestingly, research shows students form their opinion of a class in the first 10 minutes and this opinion changes very little through the semester.  Even if opinions are not closed on the first day, students certainly form a lasting impression of you – and the material – within the first few sessions.

Some ideas for setting the tone for a successful semester are listed below.   (The first three are plagiarized from the Jan. 17, 2020 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education.)

  • Humanize yourself.  Humorous asides and occasional self-disclosure can go a long way toward showing that you’re a caring human being
  • Greet as many students as you can.  This is easier in smaller courses than big ones.  But if you can, let students know you’re glad they joined you for the course.
  • Get them comfortable with one another.  This doesn’t have to take the form of a dreaded “icebreaker.”  Just divide students into pairs or small groups, and give them a simple (or challenging) task to complete.
  • Don't start your interactions with details of “boring” syllabus or class logistics. Instead, sell the class and yourself first, and then annoy them with the syllabus.
  • Recognize that your attire can impact the student’s perception and indeed the flow/style of the class.  Professional and more formal attire may help to establish an environment of authority and respect.  This is definitely a personal decision and concept, and some faculty may find that Hawaiian shirts set the appropriate tone.
  • Explain why the class is important within their field, or for their future career.
  • Talk about your goals (education outcomes), especially as it relates to their ability to think and function as a future engineer.
  • Let them know why you are the right person to teach the course, hopefully showing them how much you're looking forward to teaching as they should be to learning

And remember, teaching can be as exciting, rewarding, and fun as research!