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Nourishing the Teacher – The most important day

My grandfather, Isaac, arrived in the United States in December of 1909.  He was only 15 years old when his father sent him across the ocean to bring back his older brother, Richard, who came to the United States for a visit but never returned to Lebanon.  Rosie, the older sister, came with Isaac to help convince their brother to return with them to their home country.  On arriving in Boston, the immigration officials rushed people through like cattle.  Isaac become “Isar” on his intake papers and like most other immigrants he did not correct the mistake for fear of calling too much attention to himself.  One of their first encounters in the new country was with three thugs who whistled at Rosie.  In that era, to whistle at a young lady was an insult that could not be ignored.  Isaac quickly dispatched each thug in turn until they found themselves in the sea water with all the other fishy smelling creatures.   Isaac and Rosie were anxious about arriving in America and their first experience was of a cold place full of rude thugs where people spoke a language they did not understand.  The anxiety of Isaac and Rosie is not unlike our students entering a classroom for the first class of a new semester.  Our students can feel like a stranger in a strange land hearing a language they do not quite understand, with a list of new rules to follow, and someone who does not even get their name right.

The teacher’s goal on that first day is to form a community of learners eager to return the second day. Using an ice-breaker related to your subject can help ease students into your subject.  Lance Renner starts his Economics class by asking students about some of their favorite models.  Some students talk about model airplanes or other similar hobbies.  He then asks them what they do if they put money in a vending machine and nothing comes out.  We frequently kick or shake the machine even though that seldom solves the problem.  We do this because that is the model we carry in our head for how to solve the vending-machine-that-ate-our-money problem.  Lance then compares the study of the models of economics to our vending machine model and reassures them that each of them can be as easy to understand.  A Name Cycle ice-breaker has each student introduce themself along with their favorite animal such as “My name is Jared and my favorite animal is a jaguar.”  As each student introduces themselves they also repeat everyone’s name that has gone before along with their favorite animal.  By the time this exercise is complete, everyone in the class knows each other and you have illustrated an important learning strategy of linking new learning with something else that makes it memorable. 

The least important thing you do on the first day of class is to go over your course syllabus.  I am not saying that the course syllabus is unimportant since it will be a critical contract with the student throughout the semester but the first day of class sets the tone for the entire semester.  The first day should not be about rules to follow but about inspiring students to thirst for what this class will offer.  The first day is the perfect opportunity to help students understand the promise your class holds in helping them better understand their world.  Find out what questions the students have about the subject. It might be helpful to think back about what interested you about the subject in the first place.  When you show your excitement for what drew you to this subject, you may also be able to find the hook that will entice your students.   My grandfather fell in love with America and decided to make it his home otherwise I might have grown up in Beirut.  Hopefully, the first class will be the start of your students love affair with the subject as well and they will decide to spend a lifetime learning more. 

Teaching nugget

Education is not filling a pail but the lighting of a fire.  (William Butler Yeats)

Bad joke to start the week  

What is the first thing a little snake learns in school?  “Hiss tory”

Steven Bishop, PhD
Provost and Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs
Ozarks Technical Community College
Springfield, MO 65802


Dr. Steven Bishop

Provost and Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs

Phone: 417-447-8152


Brenda Woods

Secretary to the Provost / Vice Chancellor

Phone: (417) 447-2666


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