It’s surprising how different particular classes and sections can be. The same course taught in the same room at roughly the same time (say, a 10 o’clock and an 11 o’clock) can have a very different feel. How can we account for this?
I see several contributing factors:
- A teacher and at least some of the students interested in the class material (you will never get all the students interested, although attempting to do so is a worthy goal)
- A rapport between students and teacher, based on respect, humor, or interest. This often takes time, as trust develops and students grow comfortable with an individual’s teaching style
- Class leadership, meaning a few interested students speaking up, participating, and setting a sort of pace and character for the class. This one is tricky, as you don’t want dominating or arrogant students. One domineering student is not helpful. You do want students who are liked and respected by their peers speaking up and taking an interest. This helps undo the “sage on the stage” problem and sets a positive tone for the other students to take an interest and enter the material.
I find the class leadership issue the trickiest one, as the personalities in your classroom are beyond your control (although actively recruiting can help!). Sometimes class leadership can be cultivated, and this is particularly rewarding when a student finds a new confidence in your class.
Regardless, the challenges are looming: building trust, empathy, and leadership as quickly as possible, so that the semester is used as fully as possible for a rich encounter with the material.