Posts Tagged ‘First Impressions’

On the first day of the first course that I taught, I went to the wrong classroom. Fortunately, I wasn’t entirely alone. Two male students had also neglected to check the updated list of classrooms and accompanied me on my walk of shame from the business building to the library. On the way across the street I jokingly told these two guys that they would be my favorite students. The thing is, I have no idea who they were. It isn’t that I remember nothing about the students in that course. I remember that I labeled one student “squirrely looking” when I was trying to make notes that would help me remember students’ names. I remember the student who had excellent class participation but mediocre grades and who needed to take an incomplete because of a recurrence of cancer. I remember the student who later joined the military but came to sit in on one of my subsequent courses when he was on leave. I remember these things because I got to know my students over the course of the semester. On the first day of class, however, I was so caught up in my efforts to make a good impression (and the fact that I had likely failed by going to the wrong classroom) to pay much attention to the students who were with me.

Although I was especially flustered on my first day of teaching, this pattern has held over subsequent semesters. Despite, or perhaps because of, my efforts to make a positive first impression on my students, they fail to make a first impression on me. This actually works to the benefit of my students, since I fail to form negative impressions of those who start the semester without the required books or who take a while to grow comfortable participating in class discussions. So students, you have a few weeks to make a positive first impression, regardless of how things begin. Take advantage of it!

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One of the bizarre aspects of the job market is that everybody wants to be everybody else’s first choice.  Sure, candidates want to be a department’s first choice, but departments also want to be the first choice of candidates.  Because members of a department typically don’t know to whom an offer will be extended, they need to be nice to everybody to increase the chances that they are their first choice’s first choice.  Thus, departments and candidates alike may sugar coat certain things during a campus interview, leaving the reality for subsequent interactions.

I recently had the first of those subsequent interactions during a trip to look for housing.  On my trip I visited campus again, stopped by the provost’s office, met with HR and had dinner with a faculty member.  Each of these interactions held the possibility for some of the sheen of my successful candidacy and their successful sales pitches for the school and department to wear away.  Second impressions of the school centered on the effects of the current economy.  Compared to a number of other schools, things are not particularly bleak, but faculty members will not be receiving cost-of-living raises this year.  I can’t be sure of their second impressions of me, but they may have noticed that I’m more of a sarcastic asshole than they originally anticipated.

Largely, my second impressions reinforced my first impressions:  the school seems to be on solid financial footing;  the sense of community that was conveyed during my interview remained;  and my future coworker was friendly and gave me good advice about navigating the transition from graduate student to junior faculty member.  He may regret this in the fall when the sarcastic asshole down the hall won’t stop asking him questions.

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