First Impressions

Monday is the beginning of another new semester at the community college . . . and I’m nervous. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been teaching since 2004. It doesn’t matter that I have a stack of glowing evaluations from satisfied students last semester.

What matters is that for some reason I’m not so hot at first impressions.

I swear that I wear professional-looking clothes and shoes, comb my hair, show up on time, smile, all of that. I’m not flunking on those counts. It’s just that somehow I fail to convince students to be excited to show up to my class again for day two. It usually takes until day five, eight, or even ten.

Over a lunch of Cafe Rio pork salads and quesadillas, I talked it over with my sister on Wednesday. Her university courses started this week, and already she had such glowing praise of her professors! “This teacher is amazing and so nice and the books she chose are going to be incredible to read because the way she described them made you want to open them and read them right now, and this other teacher—”

“Um,” I interrupted, half raising my hand like a timid student. “How do I do that? How do I make my students excited about my course?”

She winced a little. “Well, the class is about [such and such technical and highly interesting thing] and the books deal with [fascinating angle of said interesting thing], so . . .”

I finished it for her: “So the trouble is that I teach first-year composition, and who’s excited about that?”

Is that really it? Am I doomed from the get-go because I teach a general education course, whereas my sister is at the end of her major, taking classes custom designed by the professors to be exciting for English nerds? It seems like such a defeatist attitude!

So every semester I go in armed with some new first-day strategy to bolster instant enthusiasm. I give them letters written by previous students, reassuring these newcomers that the course is great and they’ll learn so much. I do activities and show movie clips and try to warm them up to me and to each other as quickly as possible. But still, somehow they won’t be convinced for a few weeks.

Any suggestions? What’s the key to it? What could a gen ed college teacher do or say on the first day to win you over?

Leave a comment!

First-day Butterflies

My stomach muscles are tensing. 

I’m just lucky I didn’t get the nightmares this time around.  You know.  The first-day-of-school nightmares.  When you’re a student, the nightmare might feature horrors such as forgetting to put on essentials like clothes.  When you’re a teacher, it’s worse.  You show up with nothing prepared.  Nothing.  No syllabus.  No lesson plans.  No curriculum.  Just you with 50 minutes to fill and nothing to teach.

Or in my case, 80 minutes for each class.  And I’ve got two different classes this time around, so that’s 160 minutes I’ve got to fill.  I’ll try to be as funny as possible so that we can eat up a few seconds at a time with laughter, but really the biggest challenge of the first day is that they don’t know each other, so they’re not ready to raise their hands and risk saying anything.  My teaching style leans a lot toward class discussions and away from lectures, so 80 minutes without student responses is a long time for me.

Generally I do some sort of get-to-know-you activity to compensate for that.  Sometimes they work.  Sometimes they’re just sort of pathetic.  We’ll see how it goes tonight!

In the mean time, how do I make the anxiety go away?  I’ve been teaching since January 2004, so if the first-day butterflies haven’t flown away by now, I’m thinking they might not ever.  Darn it.