First, I’d like to thank Mike Griffin (@mikegriffin) for giving me this idea/allowing me to steal his idea. He wrote an interesting post about teaching first day of the new semester at his university. It detailed the things he did and the reasons behind them. I think this idea of sharing the first day of school is great because it not only gives you some interesting ideas for activities but also gives an expository understanding of the thought process and informed decision making that goes into crafting the crucial first day. In this vein, I’d like to share some of my first day goings-on and the reasons behind what I do.
Here’s what I did on the first day of the new semester at my university:
I took a few shots of soju to still the nerves. No. Just kidding. I can’t stand the stuff, and I don’t really drink alcohol. But, could you imagine what the first day of class would be like if one did do that? Or, if a teacher channeled Michael Scott, for the first day of class? I’d like to channel Michael Scott one day. I think he’d make an excellent TEFLer.
I introduced myself. This is the first thing I do after I greet the class. Although there are some students who have already taken classes with me, there are a large majority who have not, and since they will be staring at me, listening to me, and talking to me for 16+ weeks, they should probably know something about me. By learning something about me, they can come to understand who I am, what I’m into, and what they could probably expect from me (and my experiences). They are always surprised that I have children, I dislike kimchi, and I love zombies. My self-introduction, however, is no biographical lecture. I typically do some fun activity that gets students asking me questions and speaking. This semester I did the Yes/No game, Anthony Bingo, and Anthony Trivia (the first two activities can be found here). This brings me to the second thing I did.
I got all students to talk. Within the first five minutes of class, I got students talking. Asking me questions. Working together and talking to each other. This does two important things. First, students begin to learn that I expect class to be interactive, and I expect them to talk – both in front of the whole class and in groups. Creating this classroom attitude early on is extremely important, as I feel it sets the tone for the whole semester. Second, students talking to each other lets them get to know their fellow classmates and begin building classroom community, which is, of course, extremely important. Besides talking to me during my self-intro activities, I always have some student-based ice breaker. This time I did Pass the Paper, People Bingo, and Snowball Fight (they can be found here).
I displayed my eidetic memory by memorizing all their names. I have a great memory, but it is by no means eidetic. However, by getting students speaking at the beginning of class, and by using their names, by the end of class I can generally remember all the students’ names. This is no easy feat, as the names are very repetitive and in endless similar combinations. After the first few activities, I do the parlor trick of going around, pointing to students, and saying their names. This always impresses them, and I want my students to be impressed.
I made them laugh. I try to get the whole class to laugh at least once. The jokes are sometimes preplanned, but usually I find something to make a joke about, usually myself. Year in, year out, my ELT methodologies class tells me that one quality of a good teacher is them being funny. I try to embody this quality. Krashen would be proud too, because after a joke or too, I can hear the affective filters hit the floor.
I explained the course to them. This is the taking care of business part. Dogme gods be damned, I tell them the textbook we will use; how they will be marked for attendance, participation, homework; and brief descriptions of the major assignments. I also explain how to use Google Drive and give the first homework assignment (read the syllabus, fill out my survey, download the Google Drive app).
I ended class early. The first day of class is expected to be a syllabus-drop class. Although I do a lot more than handout the syllabus – ice breaking and classroom community building mostly – I do give in to their expectations and end the class early. A two hour class ends after the first hour. I also enjoy a piece of cake first day, because the rest of the semester we’re all going to be working our butts off.
I got upset about first day no-shows. In my opinion, the first day of class is the most important because that’s where you meet the teacher and the class, and also get important class information. So, for those no-shows, I wonder, “What’s their problem?” Usually, they overslept. It’s the first day of school. How do you over sleep? Some have legitamite excuses or signed up but decided to drop the class. Nonetheless, I wish the university had the same policy as mine back in the states, which was an automatic drop if you do not attend the first day of class.
Here’s what I didn’t do on the first day of the new semester at my university:
I didn’t give them a syllabus. This is the first time I haven’t given them a printed paper syllabus and schedule. This is part of my effort to go as paperless as possible, to save trees, and to get them used to using Google Drive. I did explain everything important, but I still asked them to read the syllabus. The downside of this is they may be less likely to actually read it than if I gave them a printed version. Then again, there is no guarantee they read the printed one anyway. The upside is if I make any changes – which I always do, especially to the schedule, which changes often – I don’t need to print more papers out. Students have access to the documents anywhere, anytime. Another upset, though never used, is that they can comment on the documents with Google Drive if they have any questions or concerns.
I didn’t teach them a thing. Besides meeting their expectations for a shortened class, I feel that, for the first day or two of class, its more important to establish rapport, build community, and drop those filters like a Krashen-pro. Like I said, we are going to be working hard all semester; there is no need to rush into it. However, for my ELT methodologies course (grad-level, pre-service teachers), we did do some work and I kept them the full two hours. We did some in-class reading and discussion about the qualities of being a good teacher, and the qualities of being a good English teacher – qualities I will have them keep in mind throughout the semester.
I didn’t do a needs analysis. Oh no! I have done them before. I’ve done detailed ones. I’ve done abbreviated ones. The information I get from them is important, but I often find that they are useless. Needs generally fall into two categories: functional needs and language needs. Functional needs are what they will be needing English for. I teach English for social discourse, some academic discourse, and presentation skills. Other functional skills do come up in class, but I find that these things generally meet students’ needs. If they are looking for business communication skills or domain-specific language they are in the wrong course. Language needs are the vocabulary, grammar, conversation, and listening skills (I’m teaching conversation courses this semester) they need. These needs are pretty common and predictable from semester to semester. A good teacher who knows their students (and the general local culture) should be pretty good at predicting them. I think I am a good teacher, and I do feel I meet their needs, whether I know them specifically or not. And what they need, language-wise, can be addressed as they arise. All of this is true for the pre-service grad-level course I teach. I know what these teachers need, and I know why. But this did take a needs analysis the first time I taught the course. And, I do ask this class about their goals and expectations, because I don’t have to synchronize this course among several different class sections. I only teach the one grad course. All this being said, if this were a new course or a smaller course, I have no problem creating, using, and implementing a needs analysis.
I didn’t actually learn all their names. I have a good memory, but I’m not Sheldon Cooper! I probably forgot 30% of their names by the end of class and knew only 20% by the next class. It usually takes me two weeks to learn all their names.