Yes, I needed that exclamation point. I ran into a student last week who asked when the first day of school stop being exciting. I told her I’d let her know if I ever found out, but it certainly hasn’t happened yet.
The first day of class, however, is hard for professors. Students tend to call it “syllabus day” and there is this belief that nothing happens on the first day of class. And, it is true that I’m probably not going to lecture at you for fifty minutes, but it certainly isn’t true that nothing is happening.
I have three major goals for the first day of class. First, I need to take care of administrative tasks; who is here, what books do you need (and when do you need them), when are things due. Listen, I hate this part of the first day. I sound just like the teacher in Peanuts when I talk about due dates, “Wah, wah, wah, wah wah, wah.” I’m telling you this, now, on day one, for you. So that you can start to envision your work load and the shape of your semester.
Second, I want to show you what this class is going to be like. It isn’t any fun to get to week six and have a student finally realize, “Oh, this course is driven by primary sources!” Or, to finally have them realize that my Colonial America class is based around biography. When I have you read a primary source and discuss, it is in part to show you what class is going to look like.
Third, I want to get a sense of the student dynamics. I tailor my classes to the students in the room. In a class full of senior majors I expect that they can sustain a discussion without my constant intervention. And in a survey class full of first year students I know that I need to help them learn how to “do college.” Ice breakers can help me assess this dynamic. In other words, I know they are lame and that is part of the point. How do you all interact with each other while being silly?
Mostly, I’m excited to meet my students. I like you and I want to get to know you. I’ll be there at the front of the room with my excited grin and a very impressive blazer. I hope you let me see your excitement too!