Monday, June 24, 2019
One of the things that I obsessed over (alone and together with other new business law prof colleagues) as I began my teaching career was how to teach the first day of classes in my courses. I was given some great advice by many folks. Here are a few of the most valuable things people told me--advice that I use all the time, in my first-class sessions and, in some cases, beyond.
Have a solid class plan. This may go without saying, but my obsession paid off in that I was prepared, and therefore more confident (although my legs were shaking behind the podium anyway . . . ). I actually typed up my class notes for the first semester's worth of classes I taught. (I learned that, while I can read class notes competently, I always extemporaneity anyway . . . . I no longer read typewritten class notes, but many of my colleagues who are experienced and effective teachers still do.) But typing up my notes helped to reinforce key parts of the material for me and identify course themes.
Use the first class as an opportunity to introduce the semester's task, including both substantive law coverage and other learning objectives. I use a device in each doctrinal and experiential course to offer students a window on what we are covering and how that will be done. I include a piece on my expectations (e.g., reading the syllabus, frequently checking the course management site, reading email, producing timely and thoughtful work). Be as clear as possible about your expectations for your students. (As Josh Fershee said, "it's important to be as clear as possible about the what and the why.") Write them into your syllabus, of course; but also reinforce them verbally on the first day and at every logical juncture in the course where they may be relevant.
Consider using a motivating hypothetical or in-class project to help launch the course or illustrate coverage or themes. In my Business Associations course, after using a PechaKucha presentation as a brief introduction, I assign a few students in key roles in a new business with each other, and we use the remaining class time to talk through their expectations and how the law might address them. In my Corporate Finance course (which I teach as a planning and drafting seminar), we begin with a nebulous drafting assignment. In my Securities Regulation course, we begin with the financing of a vaguely described business in which the students are invited to invest. These three sample introductory sessions are just few among the many that could be used for these or related courses. Use your knowledge of where your course is headed to construct something relevant to your materials and course plan.
Arrive at class ten minutes early. Engage the students in an informal way as they arrive and get settled. Ask about how they are, what they did last summer, compliment them genuinely on something, what kind of coffee they are enjoying, etc. Anything that comes naturally in the way of light personal banter can work. (Continue this in subsequent classes, by the way. It's a great way to develop a deeper relationship and trust network with your students. This can come in handy when you flub up on something--which you inevitably will do, based on my experience and the experiences of folks I know.)
I am sure there is more I could say, but these items are the key ones, from my vantage point. What can you add? Leave comments to help our new colleagues along a bit.