Teaching Your First Class, Seminar or Lab

Author: Dr. William J.  Owen (Psychology), Dr. Scott Green (Forestry)

The first class is one of the most important days in each semester. In fact, your students will quickly assess how prepared and confident you are in your own ability to teach the course material, and if you are a reasonable and fair‖ professor. Being adequately prepared will give you the opportunity to make the most of the first day.  The following suggestions and questions may help you to prepare for the first class of each semester.

Preclass Preparations

  • What do you want to students to learn? (e.g., design a final exam question or two)
  • Take your course syllabus to Copy Services
  • Visit the classroom (what are the benefits and limitations?)
  • Book teaching aids (e.g., computer/projector system, VCR) through Education Media Services (EMS: 6470)
  • Is the bookstore stocking your textbook or reading package?
  • Submit Reserve Reading requests to the library (note: reserve request forms can be downloaded from: http://lib.unbc.ca/pages/services/faculty/reserves.asp , processing takes up to 5 days)
  • Clarify your expectations…

…About yourself

Reducing your own stress will improve your mental and emotional wellbeing, which may be one of the most important factors in becoming a great teacher.  It is vital that you have reasonable expectations about yourself.  Is this the first time you have taught this course?  What is your stress level?  Can you identify the specific issues/questions creating stress for you?  What are the other significant stressors in your life right now? What is a reasonable expectation of what you can accomplish in your first semester teaching this course (or in improving the course if you have taught it before)?  Where can you find support in developing this course?

…About your students (Every group of students is different)

a) What are your assumptions about the students?  What they should know already?  What experiences they have had?  What they want to get out of the class?  What cultural “baggage” they bring into the class?  How stressed are they and how much are they prepared to invest in this class?

b) Test your assumptions:  You might consider doing some class polling at the beginning of the course to help bring your assumptions into line with the reality of the group.  This can be helpful information for both students and teachers.

First Day of Class

Four important introductions:

Introductions help to set the tone of the class. An instructor‘s personal introduction and enthusiastic introduction of the course material is a key motivator for student learning.

Who are you? How do you want the students to address you (Dr., Professor, etc.)? What is your background education and how is this related to the course? Why are you teaching this course?

Who are your students? Ask students to introduce themselves or the person sitting beside them. For larger classes, you can ask the students to fill in a brief information sheet that asks students about their interests, etc.

What is the course about? What are the objectives of the course? Why are these objectives important? Ask students what goals they have with respect to this course. How are you going to use class time? How can students best prepare for your exams and assignments?

Classroom etiquette: What types of behaviours are acceptable in your classroom? Which behaviours are not acceptable? Design a slide that lets your students know your expectations of their behaviour or have the students help you design a classroom code of conduct.


Should I teach on the first day?

Yes. Teaching establishes a tone and expectation that the class is to be taken as a serious academic endeavour. Additionally, teaching gives students an early opportunity to engage the subject, each other and you. Use it as an opportunity to pique their interests, especially in required classes where students may not naturally be engaged.

What should I teach?

  • Get into the course material by hitting the essentials:
  • Provide intriguing and clear examples that capture important topics to be covered in the course
  • Define important topics and/or theoretical frameworks
  • Initiate discussions (get the students talking about the material)
  • Pre-tests: quizzes that help you establish what the students already know
  • Remember the BIG PICTURE: (a) engage each other by being interactive, (b) engage the subject by being provocative, and (c) engage yourself by having fun (take a few risks, and try some new things. You may find that you have gifts of which you were unaware).

Other considerations

  • What will you wear? (What tone do you wish to set?)
  • How do you want students to address you both in and outside of the classroom?
  • How formal do you what to be? Will you sit or stand?
  • Class size
  • Time allotted to introductions
  • Will you introduce the teaching assistant?
  • Will you provide notes or semi-notes to the students? Why or why not?
    • Semi-notes are partial lecture notes that students have to fill in
  • Will you see students outside of your regular office hours?

Suggested Tips for Dealing with First Day Nerves:

  • Expect to be nervous
  • Be prepared; act confident; deep breathing; practice; humor
  • Practice your first session
  • Bring plenty of syllabi
  • Arrive early and talk to the students
  • Write the course number and section on the board
  • Involve the students
    • Ask student athletes to provide a list of competition dates
    • Ask student with disabilities to provide you with a letter outlining any necessary accommodations
    • Ask students to write an anonymous two-minute review of their reactions to the first class
  • Stay after class to answer any student questions


Brinkley et al. (1999). The Chicago handbook for teachers: A practical guide to the college classroom. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Davis, B.G. (1993). Tools for Teaching.

Barbara Davis has provided some of her book, including the chapter for teaching your first class, on the web site: http://teaching.berkeley.edu/bgd/teaching.html

Shor, Ira (1996). When students have power: Negotiating authority in a critical pedagogy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

http://www.csuohio.edu/uctl/tchtips1.html has tips for your first day, including 101 things you can try in the first few weeks.

If you are teaching first year students, you may want to check out this web site: