Advice: Infusing 3 Modes of Persuasion on First Day of Class

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I had a revelation as I was beginning my new class today: Aristotle’s three modes of persuasion are important in any persuasive speech, but on the first day of teaching a new course, ethos, pathos, and logos are required.  These tools are imperative in a persuasive speech because they tackle all of the audience’s concerns and needs.  On the first day of teaching a new class, the three modes of persuasion are necessary in establishing your personality as an instructor and in creating both the classroom culture and the norms of the course.  Let’s take a look at each.

Logos is the logical appeal.  On the first day of a new course, students want to know why in the world they’re sitting in that classroom.  As an instructor, it should be your goal to explain how the course logically fits into the whole of your students’ education and in their lives.  But logos applies to more than just the desire to know “why?”  The logical appeal also refers to the structure and organization of the course.  Students really require a sense of order from the very first sentence you speak to them, as this creates not only a hierarchy in the classroom, but also the way in which the class will run throughout the time you are together.  These facts and figures, these rules and policies, help your students feel the order, structure, and organization that they need to be able to learn the material you must teach them.

Ethos is the ethical appeal, but ethos isn’t only about right and wrong.  As an instructor, your ethos is your character and credibility as a leader of the classroom.  Within the first hour, your students should know why you are an authority figure and how you are qualified to teach them the material.  Explaining your educational background, your work history, and other relevant information helps these students trust you, and trust is absolutely foundational for learning.  I want my students to know not only my credibility, but also my character.  This means I explain my value system right up front.  The most important classroom value for me is that all students feel that they are amazing people and are treated with respect and love from both me and their fellow classmates.  In my classroom, my goal is to create a warm, friendly, nurturing environment for every student to feel important.  As corny as it sounds, establishing my role as “Mama Bear” is important to me.  This breaks down many barriers and really lets my precious angels be who they are naturally without having to worry about judgment from me or from their fellow classmates.

Pathos is the most important appeal on the first day of a new class.  Pathos is the emotional appeal, so this is all about making your audience – your students – feel feelings.  If you logically go through the syllabus but don’t infuse bits of YOU into the course, you are, essentially, a robot, and the only thing the students take away from your boring first lesson is that you can read them policies and rules in a monotone voice.  This is no way to create a relationship or a first impression.

When I was a brand new teacher, I was always concerned with being overly professional to make up for my young age.  I realize now that I can be exactly who I am in real life, and this “me” is so natural that it allows me to connect with students.  So who am I?  I’m fun.  I like to laugh.  I value knowledge, but I think you can only learn if you feel connected to the material.  I love storytelling, and I think infusing bits of yourself into lecture helps the students see and feel your passion for the subject and get to know and trust you a little more (see ethos).  By the end of the first day, my students know that I absolutely love every single second of my job and being with them, and this is important in creating that passion and generating those positive emotions to set the tone for the remainder of the course.

Here are my four first day of class suggestions based upon ethos, pathos, and logos:

  • Greet every single student as they come in the door.  I do it from my desk, but every student gets a, “Good morning” or a “Hey y’all!”
  • If possible, play upbeat, fun music.  This morning at 9 AM, Michael Jackson had many students dancing and singing before class even started.
  • Smile.  Even if you’re nervous about the first day, take the time to look around the classroom, take a deep breath, and smile… because you have the most fulfilling job in the world.
  • Be YOU.  Taking your natural self out of teaching means that you are a boring robot.  If you are a boring robot, you definitely shouldn’t be a teacher.
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