The First Day of Class: Lab Hour

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Red banner embroidered with NO CUTS PSC CUNY  placed on a classroom window ledge.  The window overlooks the boulevard in front of campus.Red banner embroidered with NO CUTS PSC CUNY placed on a classroom window ledge. The window overlooks the boulevard in front of campus.



The First Day of Class: Lab Hour

Neurodivergent Teaching 


Excerpt from my first-day teaching journal (revised for clarity)

We are in a room in a building that faces the Boulevard. In front of the building my colleagues are protesting university budget cuts. We can hear them chanting through the window. 

I admit–it’s distracting. I said to the students that half my heart is out there but my whole self is here in this room with them, and that this campus is an incredible place with an incredible history.

While I wish I was at the rally, it’s good to be in class too–this teaching and learning–is deeply connected to what’s going on outside. 


This semester my section of College Writing includes an additional lab hour once a week and is required for all students. For the lab hour, the class is divided into two smaller sections and each section meets with me one hour a week for extra writing practice. 


On the first day of lab class, immediately following College Writing, after a long hike one floor down from our classroom and through several labyrinthian hallways with confusing signage, we arrived in the room and settled into our new seats. I invited students to take out paper and pen (to write in a different modality off the screen) and offered them the following writing prompt:

Introduce yourself to me as a learner. How do you learn best? What engaged you most in English 110 today? What was not interesting? What else do you want me to know about you as a student in College Writing?

Then, ask me a question—about the class, about me, about anything you’d like to know. I will read the questions ANONYMOUSLY and respond as best I can. 

As writing began, we opened the window for ventilation. That’s when we heard the chanting outside:


The room faced the main entrance to campus, and this classroom building also housed the college's administrative offices. We were listening to my colleagues at a union rally in front of the building. The cuts mentioned in the chant referred to the 24 full-time temporary faculty who were fired two weeks before the beginning of the semester to save money for the college. The students were interested, and I briefly explained the purpose of the union rally.

As the chants continued, the students wrote down their writing experiences and their questions. The questions generally focused on the syllabus, and students had other questions too. Which writers and books did I recommend (besides James Baldwin who we’re reading in class, Martin Luther King’’s speeches and essays other than “I Have a Dream,” and bell hooks’ “All About Love”)? What is my favorite activity in NYC? (Long walks in Manhattan and Queens, and visiting the New York Public Library at 5th Ave. and 42nd St.)

I wrote with the students as well, and took advantage of the opportunity afforded by writing to process the usual and unusual challenges of this first day of Spring Semester 2024.

Ceiling at the New York Public Library with a painting of clouds and sky  surrounded by an ornate frame.Ceiling at the New York Public Library with a painting of clouds and sky surrounded by an ornate frame.


About the Author
Susan Naomi Bernstein (she/they) writes, teaches, and quilts, in Queens, NY. She blogs for Bedford Bits, and her recent publications include “The Body Cannot Sustain an Insurrection” in the Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics and “After Basic Writing” in TETYC. Her book is Teaching Developmental Writing. Other publications include “Theory in Practice: Halloween Write-In,” with Ian James, William F. Martin, and Meghan Kelsey in Basic Writing eJournal 16.1, “An Unconventional Education: Letter to Basic Writing Practicum Students in Journal of Basic Writing 37.1, “Occupy Basic Writing: Pedagogy in the Wake of Austerity,” in Nancy Welch and Tony Scott’s collection Composition in the Age of Austerity. Susan also has published on Louisa May Alcott, and has exhibited her quilts in Phoenix, Arizona and Brooklyn, NY.