The first day is important in setting the tone of your course and your relationship with your students. Check out the following tips one TA uses to establish a professional image from the first day of class:

One of the most important parts of being a TA is maintaining control over your classroom. It’s critical to start off on the right foot. Establishing boundaries by taking measures such as dressing in business casual is far more important than covering each nuance of the syllabus. Some of the best professors may treat their students casually – but not on the first day or even in the first couple of weeks.

Emphasize Difficulty

Impress the difficulty of the course. There is a reason most professors do this on the first day: it makes students take you and the class more seriously. If there was one thing I could go back and change about my first day as a TA, it would be trying to impress more strongly on my students that my class was going to be difficult. Doing so makes you sound stricter, encourages them to crack the textbook early and see what the class is all about, and gives you something to fall back on after the first exam when students complain. You warned them from the start not to be slackers! As teacher’s assistants, you know what it is like to be in the students’ shoes; demonstrate right away that your grading is not going to be more lenient because of this.

Maintain Eye Contact

Don’t avoid looking at your students just because you are nervous. If you are busy setting up your classroom, ignoring them may be appropriate. However, if you can find the time, I found it to be beneficial to survey my students before starting class. Making eye contact with students conveys that you are confident and in control. It also allows you to have a better idea of who is attending your class, who is likely to be prepared, and who is coming in last minute. I taught two classes last semester, and the biggest difference between each of my first classes was that I made eye contact with students in one but not the other. Just changing this one aspect of my teaching style greatly increased my confidence, which I am sure the students could sense.

Learn Names Early On

It depends on the size of your classroom, but learning names can take some time. Start as early as possible. It is very embarrassing to call on a student by the wrong name halfway through the semester (we’ve all been there), and knowing names is invaluable during exams if you need to single someone out. This is your job, and knowing your students is an important part of it.

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