Here’s a collection of teaching tips for the first day of classes brought to us by Honolulu Community College (check their reference lists for more good sources, too). The Pig Personality Profile [try here — DGJ] is frivolous fun, but probably a good icebreaker and something I might even use when I teach Memoir Writing again in 2005-6. I especially liked reviewing Joyce T. Povlacs’ 101 Things You Can Do the First Three Weeks of Class. If your term is just getting started too, you might want to review this list.
Our first day of classes isn’t for another week. Today was a full day of meetings, with lots of slideshows bearing statistics about how many students are enrolled, how we are doing on various ongoing university goals, and so forth. I’ll be chairing the undergraduate English program review committee, and I also volunteered to be part of an ad hoc committee implementing an undergraduate humanities conference next spring. We hope to encourage juniors to deliver research papers on campus, so that during their senior year they can apply to off-campus conferences. (I presented on academic panels with four undergraduates at two conferences, last year, and I’m excited by the prospect of establishing a more formal way to keep that momentum going.)
Getting ready for the students is foremost in my mind, even though I’ve got another full day of meetings tomorrow. So now that the kids are in bed I’m taking a moment to think about the first day of classes. I’m still casting about for a comfortable way to start the first day of classes.
One year, I asked a bunch of first-year writing students to get into
small groups and tell each other something that they are very good at,
and then I had them try to teach me wahtever it was they could do. My
thought was that if they saw me struggling to do something they were
very good at, they would feel better about struggling with writing.
One student sang a beautiful verse of “Amazing Grace,” and another
demonstrated the alphabet in American Sign Language. As it happens, I
used to be a church cantor, and while I’ve never had any voice
training, I didn’t mind joining in on the second verse of the hymn.
And once when I was on a long bus trip, I sat next to a hearing
impaired woman who taught me some basics of singing. I had got myself
all charged up to do my best when the students issued their challenges,
that I was worried my plan was backfiring — even if neither my singing
nor my signing were up to the quality of the student who challenged me,
that might not have been obvious to the rest of the class — all they
saw was that I was instantly able to have a meaningful exchange in the
student’s chosen mode of expression.
But then a very tall student demonstrated his high jump. I’m just a
hair under six feet tall, so I’m not used to looking up at people when
I talk to them… I had to leap with all my effort to touch the ceiling
light, which my student could tap with very little effort. Then
another student challenged me to a cartwheel. I made sure that she knew
that her job was to teach me to do it, not just to watch me
fall flat on my face. I didn’t do it very well, but I did try. But then
my adrenaline was pumping so much that I kind of lost focus, and sort
of rushed through the “I felt pretty foolish trying all these things
that you’ve been doing for years; but I did it anyway, to show you that
you needn’t be afraid of a new experience” part of the opening day.
A few years later, one of the students told me that the opening day was
so much fun that he thought the whole class would be a blast, but that
he was seriously let down when the routine work started piling up. So
I haven’t had the guts to try that particular gimmick again.