Students should leave their first class meeting with you with a clear understanding of the following:
- the course goals,
- your expectations for their performance, and
- your philosophy of teaching and learning.
Today’s students, their families (and/or employers) PLUS today’s taxpayers all hold high expectations of what students will learn in college. Because it is possible that any of the previous mentioned individuals or groups will have heard horror stories of some poorly prepared graduates, you should also clarify these two areas:
- how you perceive your role as the teacher and
- how you perceive their their role as learners.
It is essential that you manage the expectations of students who view themselves as consumers by clearly explaining both the strengths and limitations of your course – that is, what you will and will not be able to accomplish because of time, space, finances, and other limits. Do everything you know how (including bringing in previous students, sharing ‘letters’ from previous students, etc.) to assist your current students in their understanding of the dual roles in the college classroom – teacher/professor and learner/student. If either one falls down on the job, then the learning won’t occur.
Your syllabus should present critical course information and you should clarify that information as needed during the first class meeting. Review and or point out the various sections of the syllabus. For inexperienced students, you may want to create PowerPoint slides that enable you to isolate each section of the syllabus. For academically mature students, you can simply distribute the paper copy (and or display the web-based copy), and the admonish students to stay with you as it is reviewed.
In either scenario, be sure to solicit questions from the students regarding the items on the syllabus, and draw specific attention to such critical items as attendance policy, provisions for makeup work, due dates of assignments, and grading procedures. If students do not raise questions, assure them that you will entertain questions about the syllabus via e-mail or at the next class meeting. Frequently, students do not process all the information from all their classes at the first meeting. Do not assume that a lack of questions means that everyone clearly understands everything (if only, that were true!) Review or revisit, as needed, the syllabus at the second class meeting and after the first exam or assignment. In today’s higher education environment, the syllabus is viewed as a contract between you and your students. Thus, it is imperative that both you and your students have a common understanding of its content in order to ensure a successful class experience for everyone.