Yesterday was the first day of school. Professors will all tell you that the first day of class is very important, but some students don't agree. So why do we feel the first day is so important?
1. First impressions.
Both professors and students are making a first impression on the first day. Are they on time? Do they show interest and engagement. Are they smiling? I actually read an article debating whether professors should smile at their students - I do.
2. It sets the tone
For me, the first day is critical because it sets the tone; actually, I set the tone. And the tone I want to set in my class is one of excitement, challenges and rewards, hard work, improvement, engagement. If a student misses the first day he or she will have to figure out the tone through clues given in class, but that's harder than being in class the first day.
So the first day the syllabus is distributed and explained. The syllabus is a contract between the student and teacher, and I attempt to make my expectations clear, to clarify anything unclear, to emphasize the critical elements, and to hear from my students if there is anything they don't understand, or even don't like! Students who miss the first day will get only a synopsis of this longer explanation and will completely miss the dialogue we have on the first day.
4. Getting to know you
On the first day I give an icebreaker, allowing students to mingle and get to know each other a bit. So they become comforable with each other and learn fascinating facts about each other, like who has more than two brothers, or who plays a musical instrument, or who has traveled to more than three countries, or even who has never played video games. Students who join us the second week have missed this interaction and might get to know a few other students, but have missed the opportunity to get to know the class.