It’s happened again.
You are in the middle of a class discussion, and students are engaged, raising their hands, and volunteering ideas. Or you have the lights dimmed, a film clip showing, and then, at the most critical part—
The door slams, and a quarter of the class tramps in front of you, down the aisle, and to their seats while Johnny the Ringleader comes up to you to give a garbled collective excuse.
You may have for the most part an active, engaged class that interacts well, share ideas, and turn in strong work on time—all the makings of committed, strong students in your class at adult school or college.
And yet—there is one problem. Much of the class, often together, drag into class up to a half hour late.
You may deal with this in a usual way—lecture the class as a whole on the value and need for promptness. Or you may impose sanctions, such as lowered points for lateness. You may go ahead with the class anyway. Or you may approach the offending parties individually and ask for compliance with the class start time. This often has little to no effect, and half the class still comes in late while the other half waits patiently (or not so patiently).
Often there are reasons for this lack of compliance with the scheduled start time beyond willful disrespect on the part of the tardy students.
- The class may be offered at an awkward hour, for example, as 5:30 p.m., when students who got off of work at 5 o’clock may be fighting traffic to get to class on time.
- Perhaps one of the offending parties is providing transportation to the other late arrivals and is doing his best to get everyone together and to class on time.
- With adults, a majority of the class may have childcare problems and may be waiting for the babysitter or partner to come home so that they transfer care of the kids and get to class. They may also participate in the care of elderly or ill family members.
- Students maybe be engaged in seasonal, intensive work with long hours, like farming, and may be prevented from getting to class on time due to unexpected changes in work schedule.
These are all understandable reasons for lateness as employment and taking care of family take precedence over class. In addition, many students are without their own transportation and rely on others. So what can you do to address the problem of tardiness?
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If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them (Maybe)
Poll the class, and then approach the administration about later start and end times. Often the administrator will be accommodating of the situation, especially if it means increasing student retention and avoiding losing students due to attendance problems. In addition, as long as there are no room conflicts, approaching the administration may even be an unnecessary step. Especially if it’s a small class and/or at a satellite campus, administrators are often uninvolved and unaware of the details of the classes and how they are conducted, and unilateral decisions can be made.
Set Up Alternate Class Procedures
Have handouts ready for late arrivals to pick up as they come in. Post the day’s schedule in readily visible places and allow late students to catch up on their own. Don’t keep the students who arrived on time waiting. Teach students the procedure when coming late: enter quietly, check the board, and check for handouts, sit down quietly, and get to work. Don’t disrupt the rest of the class.
Extend the Procedures
Set up a class website—often college and high school classes have learning management systems/class websites already in place. Post the daily schedule there; students are expected to check it and be informed on what is happening in class on a day-to-day basis.
Address and Deal with Excuses
Students are not permitted to interrupt you to tell you the story or their reason for lateness. Make your email/phone number available so that they may email or text you any excuse they are just dying to give. Or just accept nor expect any excuses. If students are late, then there are consequences they have to deal with, such as having to catch up with the class when they come in. Their reason for lateness isn’t the issue.
Offer Incentives for Arriving on Time
While not “punishing” anyone for late arrivals, don’t reward them either, and show consideration for those who came on time. Have activities available, such as discussion and writing topics, only for those who came on time. Points will be earned only by those who are on time although not detracted for those who came late.
Don’t Yield to Pressure
There will probably be some initial grumbling as to the lack of fairness of rewarding those who came on time—after all, why should students be “punished” for something beyond their control, like lateness? Keep repeating that students are not having their grades lowered for lateness; an incentive is being given for those who arrived on time. And as is true generally, the best grades will probably be earned by those who have managed to comply with the procedures. There may very well be a sudden uptick in students who manage to get to class on time. The few, if any, who may decide to drop the class over the “unfairness” over the extra points really weren’t committed in the first place.
Everyone has a story, and everyone’s unique. Many students, and people in general, feel that their unique story is such that the policies don’t apply to them. However, when much of the class meet this standard of uniqueness, then the policies should be flexible. By setting up alternate procedures, the concern with chronic and collective student lateness can be addressed.
What are some of your procedures when much of the class arrives late?
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