Center for Teaching Excellence

Murphy Building
600 Forbes Avenue 20 Chatham Square
Pittsburgh, PA 15282
Phone: 412.396.5177

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    The First Day of Class

    The initial contact between faculty members and students on the first day establishes students’ perceptions about the teacher, the subject and the learning dynamics of the course.  Research suggests that a bad first day experience can affect students’ grades, performance, and motivation for the remainder of the semester.  Spending time getting to know your students, letting them get to know you, reviewing the course syllabus, and involving them with the subject of the course will help to establish a healthy learning environment. 

    Dos and Don'ts for the First Day

    What NOT to Do

    What to Do

    Prepare ahead of time!

    Make just enough copies of the syllabus

    Make extra copies of your syllabus

    Wait until the day of your first class to make copies

    Copy all materials for the first class ahead of time

    Wait until the day of your first class to find the classroom

    Preview the teaching environment a few days before your first class

    Wing it!

    Practice your lesson ahead of time

    Make a great first impression!

    Dress informally

    Dress professionally

    Arrive late

    Arrive early

    Let your students get to know you.

    Provide students with little to no information about you

    Briefly inform students about your educational and professional background

    Don’t introduce yourself at all

    Tell students what you want them to call you and how to pronounce your name; invite students to get in contact with you and tell them how best to do it

    Show little to no enthusiasm for the course

    Generate enthusiasm for the course; briefly relate your personal interest in the course content.

    Get to know your students.

    Show little to no interest in getting to know the students or learning their names

    Learn students’ names/nicknames

    Consider ice-breakers

    • Social: self-introductions; three-step interviews; self survey
    • Subject matter: specific surveys; course expectations or concerns


    Do not collect any personal information on students

    Collect student information and/or interests (index cards, survey, etc.)

    Teach on the first day.

    Distribute a vague, brief, or unclear syllabus

    Distribute a comprehensive, well structured syllabus

    Simply hand out the syllabus

    “Teach” the syllabus, drawing particular attention to the most important items; develop a creative way to go over the material

    Overwhelm students with too much information

    Introduce the course topic and/or some initial material

    Do not engage with the course topic or material in any way 

    Incorporate an activity that allows students to engage with the course topic

    Do not provide students with the opportunity to ask questions

    Invite students to ask questions and participate

    Set the tone for the entire semester.

    Let students leave early

    Make productive use of entire class period

    Set a negative tone for the semester

    Model the expectations and behaviors you want to establish in your classroom for the semester