Guide to Your First Semester
This page will provide you with some basic introductory information and tips about teaching at Ball State University—from suggestions on preparing for your first class meeting to resources that will benefit you throughout your career at Ball State University. This information should be seen as a supplement to what you are provided by your department and the Faculty and Professional Personnel Handbook. If you require additional information about any of these topics, or need help on issues not listed here, please call us at 765-285-1763 and our staff will make sure you get the answers you need.
Preparing for Classes
Getting ready to teach
1. Get a Ball State computer user name and password from Robert Bell 165 [map]; you will need your Ball State ID card. This one username will give you access to your e-mail as well as any other online service at Ball State. Our students have come to expect electronic access to their teachers, so make sure you are familiar with your Ball State e-mail account. A growing number of students also are used to their teachers providing course resources and grades electronically through Blackboard or Web Gradebook; you can familiarize yourself with these online tools as the semester goes on, but get that username and e-mail account going right away. Training on all these tools is available online via the HelpDesk and from Technology Training Support Services.
2. Get a copy of the master syllabus for each course you are teaching from your departmental office. This "master syllabus" has been created and approved by your department, and it lists the course description, requirements, learning objectives, prerequisites, etc. Your own course syllabus (sometimes called a "course outline") should closely reflect this official document. More details and tips about your course syllabi are below.
3. Submit textbook requests to your departmental office. The department staff will send them to the local bookstores—Ball State Bookstore, TIS, and CBX. If you are late in submitting your request, your students may not have their textbooks right at the start of the semester. Be ready to make allowances for these delays--either in delaying reading assignments or finding alternate ways of getting materials to students (i.e. copying or scanning the first chapter).
4. Get your class lists from your departmental office. These lists will be updated after the first week of the semester to account for late add/drops. The lists will contain the following information:
- list of registered students
- official schedule of class meetings, including days, start/end times, and location
- final examination date and time (Note: This is different from your regular class schedule.)
5. Review the academic calendar so you know the exact dates of breaks, add/drop and withdrawal periods, etc.
6. Get to know your departmental staff. The department's administrative coordinator and other staff members know how things run—where to get supplies, what forms are needed for every occasion, and what stumbling blocks most new faculty members encounter. Beyond just stopping in for the items listed above, take some time to introduce yourself and meet these valuable colleagues.
Making the most of the first class meeting
1. Introduce yourself and the course, providing students with basic information about what they will be doing in the course as well as your expectations. Who are you, what brings you here to teach them about this topic, and how are you qualified to teach them? Remember that students consistently rank enthusiasm highest in teaching evaluations, so be certain to show them your interest from the first day. Don't feel obligated to read through the entire printed syllabus, but make sure your cover the basics and encourage students to become familiar with the policies and information in the syllabus. Spending too much time on bureaucratic details takes away from the focus on learning.
2. Spend time getting students engaged in the general content of your course right away. This could include an activity that has students discovering ways the subject connects to their own interests and lives, identifying their preconceptions and previous knowledge in the subject area, or setting goals for their own learning. Then plan ways of building on this initial engagement throughout the next few class meetings.
3. Be sure you take roll some time during the class to verify your class list. Some teachers with smaller classes will try to work this task into a class activity, asking for names as students participate in discussions. Teachers in large classes may pass around sign-in sheets or ask students to fill out information cards. Again, if you can, connect necessary tasks like this to learning activities in the class.
More first day ideas are available on the Berkeley Web site.
Additional Tips and Information
Office Hours and Student Contact
You are expected to hold regular office hours for your students; your department will likely inform you of its expectations on the number of hours you should be available. Today's tech-savvy students, however, may be more likely to contact you in electronic ways—cell phone, voice mail, an answering machine, e-mail, instant messenger, etc.—so consider making these communications options open to them as you deem appropriate. Be aware, though, that students who are used to instant information online may expect you to be available to them on short notice around the clock. So be certain to set limits or expectations on your availability in order to make best use of your time. For example, you may indicate times you will be available via phone or instant messenger (e.g., during office hours), or how frequently you plan to check e-mail during work days, in the evening, or on weekends. Some ambitious new teachers are tempted to make themselves available to students 24/7, and while this dedication is commendable, it will leave you with very little time for research or a personal life. Letting students know up front about your availability is a balanced approach and will likely serve your students quite adequately.
You will receive an initial class list through your departmental office before the semester begins. Use this list to keep track of who is there during the first week. Students may change courses during the first week of the semester, so you will receive a second version of this class list during the second week. Please be aware that students not on your class list should be able to produce a copy of their schedule or an "admit slip" to show that they are indeed registered for the course. Don't just add students to your class if they are not on the list, particularly if the course is full; they should follow established procedures, which usually start in the departmental office. Many departments are wary of overloading classes, so try to resist the urge to be a nice person and just add the student to your official list.
At midterm, you will receive another list of just those freshmen in each of your courses, along with instructions to indicate midterm deficiencies—students at risk of receiving a D or F. Students receive copies of these deficiency notices, as do the Residence Hall Directors and Academic Advisors, who will typically meet with students who are at risk in more than one course.
Ball State uses a letter grade system—A, B, C, D, F—along with plusses and minuses (there is no A+, F=, or F-). These grades are matched to a 4-point numeric scale for calculating GPA. Please note that students must receive a C or better in core courses to receive credit toward graduation; C- or below requires retaking of the course.
Disabilities and Accommodations
Ball State accommodates students with disabilities in a manner that balances their needs with the University's academic standards. You as a teacher do not determine a student's eligibility for accommodations; that determination is made by Larry Markle, Director of Disability Services. He provides the instructor with a letter to verify the student's needs. His office will also help the faculty member provide the necessary accommodation (note takers, special testing, etc.). If you need more assistance, please contact his office. If a student requests accommodations or indicates a disability (e.g., a learning disability) that has not been verified by Disability Services, please direct the student to contact that office.
Please include the following statement in your syllabus for students who may have disabilities:
If you need course adaptations or accommodations because of a disability, if you have emergency medical information to share with me, or if you need special arrangements in the event that the building must be evacuated, then please make an appointment with me as soon as possible.