Posted by: L. E. Barnes | August 18, 2009

First Impressions

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” An obvious bit of advice taken from a commercial (for deodorant, I think) that I remember seeing back in the 1980’s.

Today marked the start of the fall semester for the community college where I work as an English instructor. Since my classes this term will be on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, I didn’t have to go to the campus today. But the summer break has passed, and bright and early tomorrow morning I’ll be back in the classroom for another round of teaching. What first impression will I make on my students? And what impression will they make on me and one another?

On the first day of class each semester, I tell my students that I always hated it when my professors jumped into lecturing and assigning homework on the first day of class and therefore I just do a simple icebreaker activity to introduce ourselves to one another. Last term I asked each student to give the class their name and then tell two truths and one lie about themselves, with their classmates having to guess which of the three was the lie. That activity proved, well, a bit bland. Tomorrow I will ask them to do an activity called “First Impressions,” which I found on a website that listed various games and other group activities.  This activity calls for students to tape a sheet of paper to their backs and then mingle with their classmates. After conversing with a fellow student, each will write an adjective or descriptive phrase about the other on the sheet of paper on that person’s back. When the time for the activity is up, each student will finally get to take off their sheet of paper and see what compliments their classmates have paid them. (I will tell students at the beginning that they may only write positive things, such as “beautiful smile,” “great sense of humor,” etc.)

Experience has shown me it’s all too easy for students and their teachers to end up criticizing one another. Students can get ticked because they didn’t get the grades they thought they deserved, and teachers in turn can get frustrated with students’ poor performance and/or bad attitudes. This time around, I want to keep things as upbeat as possible. I recognize that being judgmental has been a problem area for me, and it has shown up at times in the way I respond to students and their work. Hopefully, our “first impressons” of one another will set a positive tone for the semester.

Granted, there will be… issues to deal with. Community colleges tend to have a fairly high rate of absenteeism and dropouts. I would also wager there’s a higher failure rate among students here than among those who attend 4-year colleges and universities. And yes, I won’t be able to please all my students all the time. However, I’m going to do my darndest to focus on what’s positive and be as encouraging as possible. After all, one of the things I love most about teaching is that it gives me the chance to contribute to people’s lives in a way that few other jobs can.

I pray God will grant me a love for my students and the grace and wisdom to handle any rough spots.

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