Making a Positive First Impression

Each culture celebrates the New Year at different times. For teachers, the New Year starts in September.

As a student, September meant new things: clothes, books, shoes. I remember wondering who would be in my class and what my teacher would be like. Would I be able to handle the academic challenges of the new grade? University brought the excitement of a new town, roomates and adventure. There was an excitement of adventure but also a little bit of fear of the unknown.

As a teacher, September isn’t much different, except I wonder what my students will think of me as their teacher. Will I make a positive first impression and convey the excitement and enthusiasm I have for my subject? Will they see me as a friend or foe?
Joyce  Povlacs compiled 101 suggestions to make the transition from summer to school a little easier.  Joyce writes,

The rationale for these methods is based on the following needs:

1) to help students make the transition from high school and summer activities to learning in college;
2) to direct students’ attention to the immediate situation for learning – the hour in the classroom;
3) to spark intellectual curiosity – to challenge students;
4) to support beginners and neophytes in the process of learning in the discipline;
5) to encourage the students’ active involvement in learning; and
6) to build a sense of community in the classroom.

Some of the suggestions are contradictory, so there is no way to incorporate all of these suggestions into the first 3 weeks, but there is certainly lots of ideas to choose from. For each need, I’ve picked the suggestion that most excites me and one that most scares me.

1. Helping Students Make Transitions

My favourite here is #8, “Give a learning style inventory to help students find out about themselves.” From my experience as a student, learning about how I learn was so empowering to me. I could see why I clashed with some teachers and loved others, and why some subjects were harder than others. A learning style inventory gave me a place to start in finding the tools I needed to learn better. I could stop being at the mercy of the teacher and take charge of my own learning.

“Seek out a different student each day and get to know something about him or her.” (#19) fills me with fear. I’m an introvert. I don’t particularly like seeking out people. Nevertheless, I can see this activity being very good to build a relationship between me and my students. Furthermore, one student at a time isn’t all that bad and can make learning their names a little easier. This is definitely a suggestion I need to think more about. One question I have is what do I do with the information I learn about the student? This could motivate me if I could see a strong purpose in the activity that overrides my strong desire to be by myself.

2. Directing Student’s Attention

I like #26 the best: “26. Start the lecture with a puzzle, question, paradox, picture, or cartoon on slide or transparency to focus on the day’s topic”. There is so many neat things in microbiology, it would not be hard to find something to captivate a student’s attention. Microbiology textbooks often use this approach to draw students into the chapter.

I originally thought #28, “Have students write down what they think the important issues or key points of the day’s lecture will be.” would be a good idea until I thought more about the logistics of this. I thought this would be a great way to motivate students to come to class prepared, but what if they don’t? Sometimes the demands of the program and life gets in the way and homework just doesn’t get done.  I think this would put student’s on the spot and I could see a bunch of blank stares, shrugs, and “I have no idea” responses. This make both the students and myself uncomfortable.

3. Challenging Students

I think #30, “Have students write out their expectations for the course and their own goals for learning.”, works really well with the learning style inventory and is a very strong benefit to students.

I don’t see how #35, “Share your philosophy of teaching with your students.”, #39, “Tell about your current research interest
and how you got there from your own beginnings in the discipline.”, and #47, “Let your students see the enthusiasm you have for your subject and your love of learning.”, challenge students unless they want to be like me. I’ll direct them to this blog if they are interested in that sort of information about me.

4. Providing Support

This section contains several suggestions I think are really great and also several that I think just bomb for adult education. One that I think is really great is #56, “Use non-graded feedback to let students know how they are doing: post answers to ungraded quizzes and problems sets, exercises in class, oral feedback.” I use Moodle to supplement class materials, and Moodle is just perfect for this. It does take a lot time to establish these types of resources, but the good news is that it only needs to be done once. The material can be reused for every class since the material is there solely for student benefit. If students want to copy each other, then that would be their loss.

“Collect students’ current telephone numbers and addresses and let them know that you may need to reach them.” (#50). In a word, “no”. I could just imagine the privacy laws that are being violated by doing this and that is not my job. I view students as adults, and if they decide not to attend class, then that is their decision to make. If they offer an explanation, then I will surely listen and do my best to offer support, but I’m not prying into their personal business outside of class.

5. Encouraging Active Learning

Active learning is a whole topic by itself, but this section does provide lots of suggestions. One that I hadn’t considered before is #81, “Place a suggestion box in the rear of the room and encourage students make written comments every time the class meets”. I think this suggestion could easily be combined with #87, “Have students write questions on index cards to be collected and answered the next class period”.  This appeals to my introverted nature. Some students just want to be anonymous and I think a box to make suggestions or ask questions, would appeal a lot to inverts. I also like that everyone benefits from the answers to the questions.

I don’t think there is anything in this section that would not use. The hard part would be to find just the right opportunity to include the suggestion.

6. Building Community

I have observed that students do best when they form study groups, so #96, “Arrange helping trios of students to assist each other in learning and growing.”, appeals to me most. I still have questions about how to arrange these groups, which I hope to explore further in this blog.

I suck at learning names (#92). I know the benefits, but my brain is just not wired that way and it takes a lot of effort for me. I feel that effort could be better spent on other activities rather than torturing myself. My professors never learned my name and I don’t feel these altered by learning experience in the slightest. Some students do stick in my mind for various reasons. I do try, but I don’t promise because I think it is worse to learn names and not remember, than not learn them at all.

So which suggestions are you going to incorporate into your classroom in the new year?

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