The first day of class is always stressful. When I was a student, first day introductions always made my heart beat too fast. What interesting fact would I share with everyone? What impression will I leave? I was 18 and would quietly repeat the same line in every class: “My name is Leslie Martinez (maiden name) and I love to read.”
“Love to read” is not exactly memorable, and—sure enough—one of my professors told me that. He pointed to me and said “I will never remember you. There are some students that are forgettable, and you are one of them.”
It sounds so bad that you might think I’m telling tales. But it’s true, and it wasn’t the first time I was reminded that I’m “just another student.” In high school, a teacher used to call me Rodriguez because “it’s all the same,” even though my last name was distinctly Martinez and meant something to me. I certainly didn’t feel valued.
Since the semester is just beginning, I wanted to tell you about this undergraduate version of myself that feels starkly different, yet just the same, as the person I am today. You will have many Leslie Martinezes and her peers feeling lost in a Zoom room or not heard or seen in a lecture hall, but even if you can’t remember them all, there are strategies you can use to help them feel valued.
- Include a welcome video and/or message in your course that makes you approachable. Reviewing course specifics is important, but don’t forget your personality. Let students know why you’re enthusiastic about being there with them.
- If you’re going to break the ice, use simple tools. Asking students to share an interesting fact oftentimes leads them to stress over it and not pay attention to what others are sharing. My favorite icebreaker prompt is “share something boring about yourself.” You see the real, personable side of someone when they tell you that they hit snooze on their alarm three times each morning. Another strategy is to ask specific questions so that students don’t have to get too creative. Consider asking something like “what do you enjoy doing Saturday mornings?”
- Repeatedly remind students that you value an inclusive environment. You should mention this in your welcome video but remind them in discussions that you want to emphasize an inclusive and respectful environment by including netiquette guidelines.
- Ask for feedback. If someone is asking me “what do you think?” then it’s clear they value my input. Consider including a Start/Stop/Continue survey in your course that asks students: (1) What would you like me to start doing? (2) What would you like me to stop doing? and (3) What should I continue doing? Asking these questions a few weeks into the semester will give you insight about what you can improve in the current and/or future offerings.
- Design for all learners. Creating a fully accessible course takes time and effort. There are considerations for everything from design (e.g., Universal Design for Learning principles) to content delivery. The Center for Instructional Technology and Training has resources that can help, like the Accessibility Fundamentals self-paced training, but I also recommend meeting with an instructional designer to identify ways to improve the accessibility of your course.
Thank you for caring!
Tags: Accessibility, Inclusivity, Pedagogy, Teaching