Difficult Conversations in the Classroom — What to Do on the First Day of Class

What you ordinarily would have done on the first day of class will not work this semester. In the past, you may have stood at the door and greeted each student as they arrived; you may have even hugged or shook hands with others. And of course, there is the traditional method of getting students to know one another, especially in large classes, by having them spend a moment to talk to the people on either side of them to introduce themselves.

Here are 10 tips to help you adjust to our new normal.

  1. Address the elephant in the room. If you are face-to-face, we can’t touch, we all have on face coverings, and we are socially distanced from one another. If you are online and traditionally, this class would have been face-to-face, discuss the adjustment for you and students.
  2. Discuss the University’s plan and expectations. Providing information about precautions and measures that have been taken will help students feel more comfortable that we “all” are doing what we can to keep one another safe.
  3. Pull up the Georgia State Covid Information website. If you are online, share your screen, or if in person, pull up the site on the LCD projector. Walk students through some of the information so that they know where to go for updates.
  4. Build community. Continue to do something that helps to build community with your class. Icebreakers still work online. Maybe try a poll asking students questions to see how much they all have in common.
  5. Share some information that will personalize you. Talk about your experience, your discipline, and a story from your college days.
  6. Provide a detailed syllabus. Be sure your syllabus includes links to important campus information, including the Office of Access and Accommodations and Counseling Services.
  7. Be clear about expectations. While this is a common conversation for the first day of class, it is vitally important during this time. In particular, students may be anxious about learning online. Providing clarity about the class format will lessen anxiety.
  8. Be ready. Prepare your remarks and be sure to explain as much as you can, which means that you should have your notes from the University website to help answer questions.
  9. Leave time for questions. Students will assume you know EVERYTHING. Answer what you can, but be honest when you do not have answers and tell them you will find an answer to their question.
  10. The Check-In. Be sure to stress the importance of checking in on one another. With covid-19 illnesses and deaths, the economic impact it has had on families, and the continued racial unrest, students like all of us, may need some additional support.