GETTING STARTED
by Lisa Roberts

As a student, I've noticed that the tone my teachers set as a course begins often colors my attitude for the semester. As a teacher, then, I've tried to do a few simple things to encourage the kind of interaction I value. Here's a few approaches you might consider if you're interested in fostering fellow-feeling at the start.

1. First thing, you might articulate to students why you look forward to the class. You could focus on a) your excitement about texts/eras/or political imperatives, b) your satisfaction at watching students progress from paper to paper, or c) how you discover new perspectives by reading student essays. Letting students know that you're intellectually and emotionally invested can free them to be excited about the class too. And clarifying your investment leads students to see you as part of a communal project rather than as some distant final authority.

2. You might distribute a class list with student names, telephone numbers, and addresses (I always mention before hand that if someone feels uncomfortable about releasing this info., he/she should talk to me privately). Students can then use this sheet to connect names to faces, call classmates (instead of you) to catch up on missed assignments, and contact each other to prepare for group projects. A list like this saves you trouble and creates a sense of group identity.

3. You may be surprised how pleased students are when you know their names by the second class. If you have trouble remembering, as I do, you could jot down defining characteristics near their names on the first day. Any one who has waited tables knows this trick: skinny guy/hawaian shirt/mahi mahi. Using those names by day-two will help students identify each other and also help you to establish personal connections which can motivate students to work hard.

4. You might even devise silly ways to get them to learn each other's names. Interviews require students to pair up, interview each other, and then introduce their partner to the entire class. The name game begins with the instructor saying his/her own name and then a student's name; that student must repeat his/her own name and then say someone else's, with the process continuing all around the room. The sheer silliness of these games breaks the ice and suggests that English classes can prize both seriousness and whimsy.

5. You'll probably find that it's best to assign students written work right away. You can ask them to respond to the first reading assignment with a submission, a list of questions, or their response to a question which you pose. In this way, you let students know that you are engaged, personable, and that you mean business.