As the first few weeks of the semester come to an end, I am calling for change. Year after year,we are forced to participate in an ancient ritual designed to torture students.
“Share a fun fact about yourself.”
“Introduce your partner.”
“What did you do over the summer?”
“What’s your favorite movie?”
The dreaded icebreaker.
For some, this is a low-stakes activity, aimed to familiarize students with their professors and vice versa. For me, it is the most stressful moment of every semester.
After 16 exhausting and anxiety-ridden years of first day icebreakers, I am calling for reform.
Why are we all so eager to break the ice?
The warming of the Earth has broken up enough ice. So much ice has been broken apart that polar bears and penguins are essentially homeless. And when you force me to introduce myself to the class, you are complicit. Ice is important.
But in seriousness, professors, I implore you to stop being so hard on yourself.
Most of your students do not expect you to learn their names and if they do, they will show up to your office hours, so break the ice then. If I had a dollar for every professor that never learned my name, I would have 25 dollars.
For context, I have had five professors a semester, and this is my seventh semester at Miami. On average, I expect one professor per semester to learn my name and even that is sometimes too generous an estimate.
Icebreakers are also useless for students.
The only time I need to know something about my classmates is when they are my partners for a group project (another element of the classroom that needs to be re-examined) and I need to fill out an anonymous survey about their contributions.
If I want to know who my peers are, I will stalk their Facebooks after class. If I want to know what they did over the summer, I’ll browse their Instagram. If I want to know what organizations they are involved with, I’ll look at the Greek letters adorning their hats and sweatshirts.
Truthfully, I believe icebreakers themselves are benign. But they contrast greatly with the rest of the college classroom environment.
Icebreakers require effort and my entire college career has taught me that trying hard in class must be avoided.
It takes effort to learn and remember your classmate’s name and then introduce them to the rest of the class. Even the simpler tasks, like sharing your favorite movie, require mental gymnastics.
Initially, you have to think of your actual favorite movie, which, if you’re like me, is very difficult because you have a list of 10 movies that you cannot definitively rank. Then, you have to read the room and pick the best one based on the people and environment.
It takes a lot of effort to make two or three first impressions in a class full of hungover young adults on an unbearably humid August day.
I set out to reform, and reform I will.
Listed below are some alternatives to stale icebreakers that address some, but not all of my concerns.
First, the entire class takes the same Buzzfeed quiz, perhaps which character from Friends you are or which kitchen appliance you are based on your birth order, then shares their results with a partner.
Second, all students log onto astro.cafeastrology.com and read their birth charts in silence for the first class.
Third, students take the Myers-Briggs personality evaluation and then are grouped according to which personality archetype they are.
Fourth, students read the last text they sent aloud to the class. If the point is to get to know each other, why not really get to know each other?
These are but a few alternatives for professors looking to get to know their students. If just one professor stops forcing their students to find a person in the class who has two siblings, then I’ll consider this a success.