Four Things to Bring to Class to Start Out the Semester on the Right Foot

(and Two Things NOT to Bring!)

As the end of August approaches, young minds turn from the fun activities of summer toward more educational pursuits. Many recent high school graduates look ahead with excitement (and a bit of apprehension) to the beginning of a college career-not quite sure what to expect, but eager to charge ahead into the unknown future.

As a college professor for 25 years, I have had the pleasure (and the responsibility) of shepherding thousands of freshmen through their first college classroom experiences. It is a duty that I do not take lightly, and I am always looking for new and better ways to inform and prepare my students.

Over the years, I have recognized a pattern to the disorganization and lack of preparedness that often accompanies the first week of classes. I hope that this post will help at least some of my students to walk into class with a sense of confidence that they are ready to begin their college career.

Here are the four things that you should bring (and the two things you should NOT bring) to class in order to start off the school year on the right foot:

  • Instructor prepared information: Nearly all classes have some kind of online classroom management system that will allow you to communicate with your professors, download a syllabus, and verify any needed materials prior to the first day of class. If you are unable to locate this type of content, feel free to reach out to the professor during the week before classes begin to ask about how to obtain a course syllabus.

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  • Writing materials: I am still surprised by the number of students who come to class on the first day without pens or pencils, notebooks, or any other note-taking device. Most professors will start teaching on day one. Finding yourself without a way to take notes is a great plan, if you are trying to set yourself up for failure.
  • Textbooks: This is a big one for many instructors, including me. As a math teacher, I rely on the book heavily from the first day of class for delivering content. With the wealth of textbook access available through the campus bookstore or from online retailers or textbook rental companies like amazon.com, www.chegg.com, or www.half.com, there are almost no reasons for coming to class on the first day with your textbook. The old excuse that “I’m still waiting on financial aid” has also been handled on many campuses (including my own) with an ID card that will allow you to purchase books ahead of receiving financial aid, and then deducting the book prices from the aid check once it arrives to your campus.
  • A Positive Attitude: Hey, you’re in college, right?!? Embrace it with a positive attitude! Come to class with an expectation that you are beginning a new and exciting chapter in your lives. Your professors are here to help you, there are new friends to meet, new experiences to enjoy, new challenges to face. It’s perfectly reasonable to miss the comfort and familiarity of your previous experiences, whether you are coming from high school, the workforce, or if you are an adult who is attending college for the very first time. Life is about change and growth. You are embarking on a path that will stretch you in ways you did not know were possible. Enjoy the ride!

There are a couple of things that you should NOT bring to class on the first day—or on any day, for that matter:

  • Cell-phone-banCell phones with active ringtones: Nothing is more distracting to a professor or to fellow classmates than when a cell phone goes off loudly in class. Every phone provides you with the ability to set it to silent (or at the very least, to vibrate). Please silence your cell phones when you come to class. You do it in the movie theaters. Chances are very good that the content you are going to receive from your professor is at least as valuable as the content you received from the last movie you watched.
    • excusesExcuses: I’m usually a little more forgiving on the first day when it comes to certain excuses. “I couldn’t find a parking spot,” “I had to park two blocks away,” or, “I didn’t expect traffic to be so heavy” are frequent first day excuses that I accept as valid. There is an element of the unknown in coming to the university for the first time, and I understand that. But after the first week or so, those excuses no longer ring true. Other excuses that don’t work for me are, “I overslept,” (then why did you sign up for my 8:00 am class???), “I’m going to be 15 minutes late every week because I have to drop my wife off at work on my way to school,” (you should probably sign up for a different section of this course so that you can attend the whole class!), or (insert your own excuse here.)

This list might make me sound like a mean and intimidating professor. I’m not. I actually enjoy teaching my students very much! I simply take my responsibility for your education very seriously. I want you to succeed, and I will do everything within my power to make your success the most likely outcome in my class. I firmly believe that every professor should be equally committed to your success. Don’t you?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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