First Day of Class

Table of Contents

  1. Planning ahead – physical accessibility
    1. Classroom location
    2. Inside the classroom
  2. Planning ahead – financial accessibility
    1. Course materials
    2. Program costs
  3. Initial contact
  4. Room set-up
  5. First-day agenda
  6. Accommodations conversations
  7. Gathering impressions

Planning ahead – physical accessibility

Classroom location

  • Contact your institution’s accessibility office and ask if they have had any complaints about the area. If the building is inaccessible, request for a location change.
  • If your institution uses an accessible shuttle service, check to make sure the location is within its range.
  • Visit and evaluate the building and surrounding area ahead of time.
  • Check for possible obstructions that may not appear on a map, such as construction work. Check if accessible doors are working.
  • Look for what physical accessibility aids are there. Are there curb ramps, elevators, and accessible doors/entrances? Is there an accessible parking space?
  • Check if there is Internet connection for accessible technology use.
  • Make sure the area will be safe at the time of day during which your class will be held.

Inside the classroom

  • Evaluate the room for potentially debilitating sensory stimuli, such as harsh lights and strong smells. Ensure the environment is smoke-free. Check for mold and other contamination.
  • Ask if there is an IT help line or technical support for that room. Write down the number or contact information.
  • Check if there are outlets near student seating for charging accessible technology.
  • Check if bathrooms are nearby and functional, whether they are gender-neutral, and if a non-cisgender person would feel safe using them.
  • In addition to a bathroom, check if there is a sanitary, private space nearby that can serve as a lactation room, safe area for students with anxiety, or other function.
  • Check visibility and acoustics, including background noise.

Planning ahead – financial accessibility

Course materials

  • Only require materials that are essential to your course learning objectives. Avoiding putting an entire book on the required materials list if only one or two chapters will be used – scan and distribute the chapters instead.
  • Request all required materials at the library far ahead of time. If your textbook has an accompanying answer book, request it as well. Be aware that copies on reserve may be impossible to access when in high demand, so try to request as many copies on loan if possible.
  • Encourage your institution’s bookstore to implement a semester rental policy or deal if it doesn’t have one.
  • Check the prices of your materials online. Be aware that students may be ordering textbooks with reduced shipping costs, which take longer to arrive. Take this into account when drafting your course schedule.
  • Use a shared online drive or course platform for digital material. Visit the Lesson Design and Delivery page on how to make scans available in accessible formats.
  • Consider starting an “equipment bank,” or storage system for collecting equipment from students at the end of the semester for re-use. This could be for physical material or a drive for digital material.

Program costs

  • Transportation: Check if there is public transportation available to your classroom location. Inquire into the ability of your group of students to carpool, and follow up with non-drivers to ensure they have ride.
  • Cut extra costs: Try to avoid activities in your schedule that require money (e.g. purchasing a theater ticket), but if unavoidable, request financial support from within your department or institution.
  • Avoid requiring students to enroll in paid online programs / assessment platforms, even if they save time grading.
  • Financial support: Ahead of time, inquire into whether there is institutional or program support for students who cannot afford an essential material or activity.

Initial contact

  • Your first contact with students should be prior to the first day of class. Continue to contact new students as they add your class during the shopping period.
  • Be sure to introduce yourself, using the name and title you would prefer to be used in class. Use your genuine rhetorical style that is true to how you normally speak in class.
  • Give accessible directions to your classroom locations in multiple redundant formats, including a map and text-based directions.
  • If using an online platform, provide a detailed explanation of how to launch it.
  • Attach or link syllabus: Provide a digital copy of the syllabus ahead of time.
  • Consider providing a platform for students to get in touch with each other before the start of class.
  • Provide a phone number for students to call if they are lost or need help on the way to class.

Classroom set-up

  • Set up microphones and test acoustics.
  • Check technology: If using a technology-based recording system such as Panopto, set it up beforehand.
  • Entrances: Prop open the door and keep the entranceway clear.
  • Check for obstructions on the floor: tape down cords and smooth down carpeting.
  • Arrange the room: Ensure there is plenty of space between aisles and chairs. If using a circular arrangement, there should be space in between for a wheelchair or extra room for a person with a physical disability to negotiate themselves into a chair. Make space for wheelchairs or a service dog.

First-day agenda

  • Have handouts of your syllabus and course schedule printed out on white paper.
  • Check your phone/email prior to class for any messages from students requesting help reaching the classroom.
  • Introduce yourself with your full name, your preferred pronouns, and how you would like to be addressed (e.g. with or without title).
  • Request that students state their preferred pronouns during introductions. If you are confused about a name pronunciation, have them repeat themselves. Do not garble a name and then ask if you “got it right.”
  • Consider creating a shared pronunciation guide for you and your students so no name is ever mispronounced. You should have pronunciations down after 1 day.
  • Ask students for feedback on the accessibility of the classroom location and environment. Was there difficulty reaching or finding the room? Is it hard to hear, see, or move inside the classroom?
  • Go over the entire syllabus as a class, out loud. Include your course goals, which should provide a roadmap of the content. Expand on your accessibility/inclusion statement beyond what is on paper. Be sure to emphasize inclusion as a value rather than a bureaucratic procedure. Ask if they have questions.
  • Clearly explain the anticipated daily workload for the class. Describe extracurricular work as important to student success rather than as an “expectation” or requirement.
  • Discuss class policies and norms, explaining why all of them are in place. Explicitly articulate any etiquette that you would like students to use and explain why it is useful.
  • Discuss grading later: Consider postponing in-depth discussions of grading policy to a later date, when you and your students are more familiar to each other.
  • Demonstrate how to launch, use and log in to any course platforms or digital programs they may need. Keep in mind that computers may not be available to all students at all times, and that some students may be using public or borrowed computers rather than their own personal device.
  • Demonstrate your teaching style: As you move on to teaching, model the teaching and/or discussion style you expect to use for the rest of the semester. This will help students decide whether to stay in the class.

Accommodations conversation

Should a student approach you with an accommodation request:

  • Do not ask whether they have a disability, or for documentation, under any circumstance.
  • Respect the student’s privacy surrounding their disability and/or personal life or needs. Only ask questions relative to their accommodation in class.
  • Discuss what accommodations that student has used in the past, including what has and hasn’t worked.
  • Suggest that you check-in with that student multiple times during the semester to ensure that their needs are being met. Be clear that their accommodation discussion will not be closed after just one talk.
  • Ask what institutional support they are getting and if they are having any problems.
  • Be sure to ask what else you can do, besides what is being explicitly requested. Some students may be holding back out of fear of asking for too much.

Gathering impressions

Consider using a survey to evaluate your students’ learning needs, including their learning styles, educational backgrounds, and familiarity with the material. Use what you have learned about your students’ needs to begin making adjustments to your course. The survey results may also become useful for dividing your students into effective teams for team-based learning.