Setting the Tone: A Restart
J. Proppe

This opening topic is a fantastic one. I decided, just this semester, to change the tone of my first day/week approach. As the teaching years have progressed I have noticed how my first day routine had evolved into rules, rules, rules, “don’t do this”, “do this”…much like a list for prisoners rather than guidelines for students.

jail hands

The syllabus, course structure, assignments, and class procedures are important (and I still go over them), but my focus this term was flipped to the students rather than on me as surrogate prison guard. In addition to my first day “write your musical story” activity, I asked for a show of hands for various musical activities in their lives. Quickly the class was sharing their musical past, present, and interests without much prodding and poking on my part.

student raising hand

On day one I assign a required article reading in my face to face classes. Then on day two we do discuss this brief article. Since it is accessed by the students online I can see who has taken the time to open the document or not. This gives me a sense of the “go-getters” and those that may struggle or who won’t follow through on assignments.

Also on day two I thank all of them for sharing their stories (by day two I have already read all the music autobiographies), and I share a couple of short stories about my musical life. I purposely pick a silly one like the time my father thought it would be great to have his thirteen year old, 5’11”, spectacle wearing daughter play the accordion; as if I needed anything else to emphasize my awkwardness at that age. I also share with them the awesome experience I had teaching the very course they are taking in China in 2010.

China class 2010

I am pleased with this more personal tone now as my semester is in full swing, and I will continue this first week approach for future semesters.