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Sidebar: Preparing for your first day of class

When you’re planning the content and format of your course, it’s helpful to know who your students are, how your course fits into the program curriculum and what expectations exist for your course. There are many sources of support and information:

  • A good source of information is your department chair.
  • Review past syllabi, old exams, assignments and other previous course resources.
  • Speak with previous course instructors as well as those who teach prior and subsequent courses.
  • Contact the Center for Teaching Excellence for any teaching-related support.

Here are some questions to think about when preparing your:


  • Where does this course fit into the curriculum?
  • What is the content knowledge of entering students?
  • What will be expected of students coming out of this course?
  • Is the course an elective, restricted elective or program requirement?
  • From which academic programs will students be entering your course(s)? At what level/year will they be?
  • What is the expected course enrollment?


  • What room are you in?
  • Will the room meet your space needs?
  • Will the room meet your technology needs? If not, what will you do?
  • Have you visited the room you’ll be teaching in?
  • Will the room meet the needs of your teaching methods? Will you need to change your teaching methods or plans because of the room?
  • Where are the emergency exits, telephones and restrooms?
  • Who do you contact if your room is unsatisfactory or if you have a problem with the room?


  • Have arrangements been made to put course materials on reserve for short-term loan?
  • Do you or your students need training/orientation to access library services and resources? Check with the library for your training needs.  
  • Have you taken a library tour and spoken with a librarian?  If  not, contact Reference Librarian Dan Ream (dream@vcu.edu)


  • Have arrangements been made to order textbooks and course-packs from the University bookstores? (Books can take eight to 12 weeks to arrive. Check with your department or school for ordering guidelines or contact the University bookstores directly.)

Course Countdown

  • Have you developed a course outline with a detailed description of course requirements, teaching methods, objectives, and timing of evaluation?
  • Does your syllabus contain VCU’s ADA, emergency, and honor code policies?
  • Do the points and percentages in your grading scheme add up?
  • Have you decided to negotiate the student assessment methods with them?  Is this clearly indicated in your syllabus?
  • Have you written in a “change in syllabus clause?”
  • Have you considered how to handle late assignments? This should be included in the course outline.
  • If you do not use Blackboard, have you made enough copies of the course syllabus for your students?
  • Have you prepared what you’re going to do and say at the first class meeting?
  • Have you considered how you’re going to handle students who wish to drop or add your course? Prerequisite waivers? (Check with your department, school or college for guidelines.)
  • Have you considered how you will deal with disruptive behavior in the classroom?  
  • Have you considered how you will collect feedback from your students about your teaching, their learning and the course in general before the end of the course?
  • Have you considered how you will document teaching practices and select materials for your teaching dossier? This information is handy for updating your course syllabus as well. Check with your department chair for dossier requirements and suggestions.
  • Who will you contact if you have technology problems in your classroom?

Student Support

  • Are you familiar with the VCU Honor Code?
  • Are you familiar with the VCU ADA requirements?
  • Are you familiar with the VCU emergency preparedness policy? Have you signed up for text message notification?
  • Do you know the where to refer students for academic advising? 
  • What can you do when a student is in personal difficulty?
  • What will you do if a student is in crisis?
  • What do you need to know about harassment and discrimination before you enter the classroom?

First Day Activities:

  • Get there early – make sure you have all the equipment you need.  If you are using electronics, make sure they work.
  • Talk to your students as they enter the classroom.
  • Take a deep breath and relax.
  • Introduce yourself to the class.
  • Allow the students to introduce themselves.  In large classes, students can introduce themselves in smaller groups.
  • Discuss and evaluate the room environment together – can the students hear you, each other, and if/how can the room be arranged to facilitate learning.
  • Overview the course
    • Review departmental requirements/expectations.
    • Present and discuss how the class will be formatted, especially if you are not using lecture as your primary teaching method.
    • Present and discuss:
      • Expectations for class time
      • Expectations outside of class
      • Instructor responsibilities
      • Student responsibilities
      • Assessment of instructor and student
      • Cooperation/communication/resources
  • Take a deep breath and relax.
  • Start your first teaching activity if there is time!
Virginia Commonwealth University  |  Center for Teaching Excellence
Last updated: 06/20/2013
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