Starting the Semester
"The first day of class sets the tone for the rest of the term...[It is your opportunity to convey your enthusiasm for the material and stimulate students' curiosity about topics that will be covered during the term...create a relaxed, open classroom environment conducive to inquiry and participation...let students know what you will expect from them and what they can expect from you and the course" (Barbara Gross Davis, 1993).
There's a lot more to preparing that first day of class than might meet the eye. Naturally you'll need a lesson plan (more on that below), but there are also significant tasks that should be accomplished BEFORE the first day.
Checklist of Pre-Tasks
These are ideas you should consider before any teaching job, even outside of USF:
- Inform the bookstore of required course texts (must be done 45 days before classes begin) - this is done by clicking "Follett Discover" from inside your Canvas course.
- Place any necessary materials on reserve at the Library.
- Build the syllabus and photocopy for distribution on the first day (or plan to place it online).
- Find the roster, download it, and bring a print out to class.
- Confirm the books have arrived at the bookstore by physical inspection.
- Preview the classroom space and make any needed adjustments to your plans for seating arrangements, materials such as whiteboard markers, etc.
There are a number of resources to help situate new faculty to teaching at USF:
- USF Faculty Glossary: A list of terms (and acronyms) related to teaching at USF.
- Higher Education Glossary: A list of terms (and acronyms) frequently used in Higher Education in the United States.
- Policies and Procedures: There are numerous university policies you should be aware of, in addition to others that might be specific to your College or department.
- Using Canvas: Our learning-management software offers many advanced features, but we recommend you view this simple tutorial on getting stated as a minimum.
- Syllabus Template: A USF-specific template with lots of instructions and examples to help you craft your own syllabus.
- Final Exam Schedule: You should list the final exam date/time on the course plan (or syllabus) from the start of class, so that students know what to expect. Locate your final exam date and time from the Office of Decision support (usually this URL).
- Order Textbooks: Because your books and course packs are required by policy to be available at the USF Bookstore, each instructor is required to use the digital system to inform the bookstore of required materials, and even to report "no textbook" if that is the case. This work must be done early; the State of Florida requires textbooks be ordered 45 days in advance of the start of the semester, and central administration charges a late fee to departments when this is not done in time. To report the textbook, open the official Canvas course and click the SETTINGS button near the bottom left navigation. On the page that opens, switch the tab at the top to NAVIGATION. Lists will appear - the top half are tools/links in your course that are active; the bottom half are inactive. Make sure the FOLLETT DISCOVER is in the top half, and if it isn't, click-drag it to the top half and release, and make positive you click the SAVE button at the bottom. After the page reloads, click on the new FOLLETT DISCOVER link and follow the prompts. Note: any mention you see of "Faculty Enlight" refers to an older system no longer in use. Florida's state government urges the use of open (free) textbooks to reduce student cost; see the Textbook Affordability Program for ideas and resources.
- Faculty Class Search: Search for your class status and location with this online tool (be sure to select the proper semester)
- Virtual Tour of Media-Enhanced Classrooms: Use this online tool to see photos of your classroom (scroll down after making a selection).
- 25Live Available Classrooms: Search through the available rooms around campus to see what is in use on a particular date. To reserve a room, you should contact the Space office.
- USF Teaching Essentials: An online course (free to USF instructional personnel) discussing best practices in teaching, from writing quizzes and delivering lectures, to effective classroom management and strong course design. This resource is available in Canvas, the university's learning management software (LMS).
- General Education: If your classes are taught in General Education, you should acquaint yourself with the program objectives, basis, course approval process, and outcomes.
- Information Technology Computing Resources Guide: A guide for new faculty regarding the computing resources available at USF.
- Questions to Ask in Your Department: Because individual departments have specific policies and budgets, there are numerous questions that can only be answered locally.
- Parking: You will be able to buy the E (employee) or GZ (Gold Zone) parking stickers only--employees aren't allowed to buy the cheaper Student parking sticker (the only exception is graduate teaching assistants; they are employees but can purchase "S" parking stickers). GZ stickers cost more and can park in any GZ lot (except in front of Psychology) as well as any E lot. E stickers can only park in E lots. Neither GZ nor E stickers can park in student lots.
- USF Office Phones: Learn about setting up voicemail and other options. Since most USF phone numbers start with (813)-974, the abbreviation 4-xxxx is often used to indicate a campus line.
- Faculty ID card: The Card Center (SVC-1032) will issue your card for free; visit their site to download the required form.
- Office hours: ATLE is unaware of a policy-mandated minimum for office hours, so you should check with your department. This video from an external university provides a humorous but effective argument that students should actually use office hours, and you may want to share it with your own students.
Building a Lesson Plan
- Plan on doing MORE than just a syllabus read-through on the first day (more on this below). In fact, it's best to do a community activity first, then perform some of your "regular" content for the class, and only at the end should you discuss the syllabus.
- Lay out the activities (and lectures?) you plan to do on the first day as an outline; do not rely on a PowerPoint slides to "be" your lesson plan. Having a separate piece of paper will better enable you to visualize connections and transitions between the sections as you prepare for the day, as well as help you keep a better overview during the class itself.
- Always over-plan. It's much better to have excess activities you didn't get to, than to realize you've raced through the material and now there is extra time with no more planned activities. These "FLEX" activities can always be revisited on a later day as a 'regular' activity.
- After you've laid out all the activities, assign the planned minutes to each activity. Aim for twenty minutes or fewer for each item--and consider seeding interactive techniques every few activities (even if they only take 1-2 minutes) to re-energize the participants. Consider this a time to adjust the lesson plan as you pencil in more and more specifics.
- Once you are satisfied with the time breakdown, print out a fresh copy of the lesson plan and use a pen to write down the "clock time" for when each activity will start. This will enable you to see better at a glance during the class itself if you are getting ahead or falling behind.
On the First Day
- Bring materials. Do not assume that your room will contain dry erase markers or erasers; you should always carry a supply with you to class.
- Dress up. While dressing comfortably seems inviting and you may be tempted to want to appear approachable to your students, new instructors are still advised to dress up slightly, especially on the first day of class. You need not wear a suit, but your dress should be professional in style (one possible indicator: your outfit should look incorrect if worn with sneakers).
- Arrive early. Use the extra time to set up your technology or presentation, or to meet students who have questions before class begins. If you still have time left over, use the eCommunity print-out to match faces with names, perhaps even taking the time to build a seating chart silently on paper as the students file in (this will help later with recall as you start to learn their names).
- Start on time. Nothing sets a precedent like the first day. If you start late, even if your intentions are good, it will send a signal that students need not worry about arriving on time for subsequent days.
- Use the board. Write your name, course title & number, and section on board. Also, write your agenda for the first-day on the board; this will help manage students' expectations about getting out early.
- Introduce yourself. You can talk about your educational and/or professional background, future aspirations, even passion or interest in the course topic (assuming that exists!). This helps students relate to you as a person and will help establish a sense of accountability and approachability. Talk to students about your interests outside of the classroom, but be sure to keep it professional. Maybe even let students "interview" you.
- Learn names and establish community quickly. No matter the class size, you should start learning names, and it's always valuable for the students to learn each other's names as well. Icebreakers and other short games, even if not directly relevant for the content of your course, will give participants a sense of ownership in the class. Even in large lecture classes, a sense of community goes a long way in establishing relevance and ensuring engagement for students.
- Teach content before syllabus. While students might expect (and even welcome) a "wasted" day of nothing but a syllabus discussion, you are better served by beginning the first class with content. Address the issue of "is this the right class for me?" quickly, but don't waste the day on surface and introductory material—just jump in. That sends a signal that your class is rigorous and the schedule is disciplined. Discuss the syllabus at the end of the first class period. Don't read every page; just the highlights and the policies you consider very important. Clearly communicate the course expectations, requirements, and prerequisites. Some instructors assign the syllabus as reading for a quiz to ensure it gets read, and others ask their students to sign a paper to signal their receipt of the syllabus. The latter action bolsters the view of the syllabus as a contract with students, which may well be how the syllabus will be treated in questions of disagreement that escalate to department chairs. However, be aware that while stressing the contractual side may elevate student responsibility, it may have undesirable rhetorical side-effects. If the syllabus is perceived as just a contract, students may view education as purely transactional in nature; they become "consumers" paying for their degrees, which can create unwanted grade expectations
- Take attendance. Some institutions have a mandatory first-day attendance policy (USF is one of them). If you are using the LMS to record attendance, don't take attendance projected on the screen because student ID #s will be visible to other students in the class; this is a FERPA violation.