The first day of class

The new school year just begins and all students seem optimistic but beneath those happy faces may hide a little worry, confuse, and stress so it is important for the teachers to let the students know that they are there to help and guide them in their learning.

As a teacher, I always use the first day of class to explain the course’s content, why some topics are important and relevant for the students’ career. Having a good introduction to the course also builds interests and motivate them to learn. This is also a time when I explain to students why this course is important to me, why do I choose to teach it, what type of teaching method I will use, and my expectations of students.

Most teachers often focus on the syllabus (WHAT) on the first day but I spend extra time to let students know why do they need this course (WHY); what they will be able to do by completing it; what skills they will be able to develop (HOW) and why certain skills are important to their career or for the rest of their lives.

The first day is also the time that teachers should talk about students’ learning. Since most students are interested in their grades and how to getting good ones, I always explain: “If you learn well, good grades will come. Grades may be important to you now, but learning is much more important. When you graduate, the grade is gone, but learning will stay with you for the rest of your lives.”

I spend the time to discuss the weekly assignment, reading materials, what I expect them to do and how their work will be graded. Since most students want to know how final grades will be calculated, I use a simple formula: Weekly grade is 10 points each and the final test is 50 points. For 15 weeks courses, they could get 150 points plus the final test of 50 points, or 200 points maximum. To get an “A” they must get at least 180 points, to get a “B” is 160 or above. By clearly explain the grading rules, students can track and monitor their performance over the course. At any given moment, they know exactly where they stand, what grades are possible, whether they need to spend more time on this course, or whether they can put in more effort to pass the course. The calculation is simple and minimizes stress for students since it eliminates any uncertainty over how they are doing.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University