"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." — Confucius
For the intellectual journey in a college course, that first step (at least from the student's perspective) is the first day of class. We, as instructors, can send very clear messages about the course and ourselves and set the tone and expectations for the rest of the semester by what we do on the first day. What information and attitudes do you want your students to leave with after that first class session? Here are some possible first day strategies.
Arrive early and plan to stay a bit afterwards - This is good advice for any class period, but especially so on the first day because it gives you time to settle in, it allows you to talk with some of your students before and after class and begin to establish rapport, and it sends clear messages about punctuality and caring.
Find out who your students are - Start to get to know your students. Whether by administering a survey or conducting an icebreaker or both, start to learn names and find out something about their backgrounds, expectations, and perhaps prior knowledge and beliefs about the course topic. This not only also helps to establish rapport, but also gives you valuable information upon which to base future class discussions and assessments.
Share some information about yourself - Consider giving the students some professional information such as your teaching philosophy and scholarly interests as well as some personal information about hobbies or life history. Once again, it helps with rapport, establishes professional credibility, and can make you more approachable for class discussions and office hours.
Review the syllabus - For you, the first step of this class started when you began to conceptualize the course, thought through the course goals, instructional methods, and learning assessments, and made them explicit (we hope) in the syllabus. Ensure that those goals, methods, and assessments are also clear to your students.
Use the whole class period (but not more than the time allotted) - Covering all of the above may take a whole class session. Hopefully, this is not the case and you'll have some time left. If so, resist the urge to let students out early and, instead, start to get into the content. The message -- class time is important and the course material is important. Plus, you can accomplish the next suggestion.
Model your teaching style from day one - Do you use PowerPoint to present content and provoke discussion? Do you expect class participation? Do you like to use active learning strategies like one-minute papers or think-pair-shares? Start now.
Show enthusiasm for the course, the discipline, and your students - The first day is a time to set a tone for a course and instructor enthusiasm goes a long way to getting students engaged. Show your enthusiasm in whatever way is congruent with your personality be it using humor, displaying high energy, or simply sharing your personal fascination with the subject.
Have a great first day!