Feed on

Ready or not, the beginning of a new semester is upon us! Have you ever noticed that most students settle into the pattern of returning to the same seats, classday after class day, throughout the semester, even though they chose them randomly on the first day of class? One of the reasons for this is that humans are creatures of habit who tend to gravitate toward the familiar. This underscores the importance of making sure the “familiar” is an environment that is conducive to learning. The beginning of the semester is an especially pivotal time for instructors and TAs to establish expectations for their interactions with their students. Doing so can help us to intentionally establish productive habits rather than falling into potentially detrimental ones. It can also preemptively clear up sources of miscommunication—and the mistrust that such can foment—between instructors and their students.

Establishing expectations need not be daunting. Often, it primarily requires taking the time to think through what your goals are for a course and then identifying the support structures that need to be in place to accomplish those goals. After doing so, it would be a good idea to clarify the following for your students:

  • What can your students expect from you? 
    • How promptly will you start class? 
    • What is the best way for them to communicate with you? How soon should they expect you to reply?
    • What types of assignments will you give? How will you evaluate those assignments?


  • What do you expect from your students? 
    • How do you expect them to behave in class?
    • What are your expectations for student participation? (And how will you evaluate their participation?)
    • How much time do you expect them to spend on homework each week? 
    • What should they do if they need help?


  • What are your policies regarding:
    • Attendance?
    • Tardiness?
    • Eating in class?
    • Using electronics in class?
    • Recording class?
    • Late work?
    • Missing assignments?
    • Missed exams?


In many cases, it will be ideal to clarify these expectations in writing in the course syllabus from the beginning of the semester. If you are TAing, consider developing a policy sheet with expectations that are specific to your section. In addition to this, it may also be helpful to facilitate a conversation about them on the first day of class. And even if the first day of class has already come and gone, it’s not too late! It would likely still be a good idea to distribute written expectations and dedicate some class time to facilitating a conversation about them. It may even be preferable to begin by facilitating a conversation about expectations, and draft the written list of expectations based on it. In either case, intentionally establishing expectations from the beginning of the semester is likely to yield benefits that make doing so well worth the effort.




Carnegie Mellon University. “Examples: Course Policies/Expectations.” Eberly Center. Accessed January 17, 2020. https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/design/syllabus/samples-policiesexpectations/

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