Starting in the middle of the semester...

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Hello all!
  I am returning to the classroom to teach a class (this is an emergency situation), and since the semester is so far along I am uncertain about how to proceed on the first day. It seems odd to jump right into teaching, since I've never met the class and I'm not entirely certain how far the class has progressed. I do not have the class syllabus yet, so I'm inclined to start with introductions, and then have an informal discussion with them to get a sense of what they've covered (and retained) in class so far. I am a little worried they may try to take advantage of me and give me the wrong information, but I hope it won't come to that. Any ideas on how to make this transition smooth for the class - and me?! Help! :-)

How many students in the class? Lecture class or one with more interaction?

If it was small enough I would have small groups work on what they have learned and teach you.

What discipline is this in? (You need to give way more context here so that we may help you).

Ah, understandable- forgive me!
It's a lecture class of about 30 students (freshmen and sophomores, primarily), and it's a required composition and writing class.

I've never taught in such a situation before. Here's what I would do if I were in your shoes on the first day:

1) Introduce yourself to the class as your new instructor;

2) Distribute a written survey questionnaire to the class and have students answer anonymously. What are the most important ideas/concepts they've learned in the class so far? What do they still need practice with? What types of classroom activities will help them learn? (Note: you probably will get some conflicting responses. You don't have to do everything they suggest). I also would say to not rely on verbal reports from students about what they've learned.

3) After you've collected the surveys, proceed with class introductions.

4) At the beginning of the next class meeting, provide students with a 1-page written memo summarizing the results of the survey and three suggestions made that you will try to incorporate into the class.

I assume your chair/dean has already explained to you how grading in the class will work, and will provide continuity with the previous instructor. If that's indeed the case, I wouldn't dwell very much on explaining your grading procedures. However, if for some reason you're starting over from scratch or making a significant departure from what the previous instructor did, you should tell students that. Again, your department chair should provide guidance.

I had to do this last semester. I stepped in to a course I had never taught, mid-semester, after the faculty member had to step down with a terminal diagnosis. I spent the entire first day just getting to know the students. Remember, they are just as anxious about the switch as you are. Spending just a bit of time putting them at ease, and getting to know them will help you both in the long run.


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