Monday, August 17, 2009


I have a love-hate relationship with instructions. Well do I remember the elementary school worksheet that told me in no uncertain terms to read all the directions before beginning. Naturally I was too impatient for that, and so I dived right in doing math problems and coloring all the O's orange and underlining all the threes ... only to find that the last instruction was to disregard all previous instructions. Oops.

The early days of any school year are all about instructions. Today we had our initial meeting with the new freshmen, in which they were provided with a bewildering sheaf of papers and asked to remember and not fail to do a long laundry list of things. And then our kids went to their elementary school and heard a similar spiel from their new teachers while acquiring similarly varied folders full of forms to be returned and procedures to be followed.

I spend a lot of time getting my classes organized so they'll run smoothly throughout the semester, so naturally I find myself giving exactly these kind of talks on a regular basis. And every year I listen to myself and hate what I hear. Sure, these are things that people need to know. But a rambling lecture -- heck, even an organized lecture -- on logistical details makes even the most dedicated listener weary, confused, and disengaged. Trying to emphasize ten tips and five rules and seven policies results inevitably in zero items actually being heard, understood, and retained.

So having heard two of these talks today -- both lasting about 20-30 minutes, both involving shuffling large stacks of paper and muttering "did I cover everything ... oh yes, very important!" -- I'm already thinking about how to do things differently on the first days of my classes coming up shortly. What's the best first day of class you ever had -- or ever led? How do you handle all the logistical details that come with wrangling a group into the same procedures without turning the members' brains to mush?

1 comment:

Doc Thelma said...

I remember that worksheet. I was the only kid in my Rivermont Elementary 5th grade class to do it correctly.

The best thing to do in freshman orientation is to ask how many are glad that their parent's have finally left.