On Being Late

teen-late-for-school-rexI always teach at 8:00 in the morning and normally don’t have a problem with students’ coming late.  However, this quarter I have a class where more and more students are coming late.  There are usually more students not in class than in the classroom.  It has gotten out of hand.  The easiest thing to do is go the punishment route.  I know an instructor who used to lock the door at 8:00 and open it again at 8:20.  After using this technique only one time, the instructor didn’t have any more late students.  That seems harsh.  I could subtract points, humiliate the students more than I do now, or I could give a pop quiz exactly at 8:00 for extra points.

But I didn’t want to level out punishments.  I talked with the class (after everyone had arrived) and passed out a clean sheet of paper asking them to come up with a solution to the problem.  They were not to put their names on the papers, and all the papers were the same.  Before they gave their suggestions, they could discuss the topic with their partner.  They could keep the paper with them during the class.  At the end of class, I collected them.

Here is what I got:

  1. Offer coffee in class
  2. Give extra credit for coming on time
  3. Have all the students fill out a “promise” form not to be late again. If the promise is broken, s/he has to take the whole class to lunch
  4. Late students get extra homework
  5. Late students have to bring food for the whole class next time
  6. Late students can’t ask any questions for that day
  7. Rewards for coming on time
  8. If students come on time, they can miss one or two homework assignments
  9. Tell everyone that the class now starts at 7:30
  10. Give a quiz at 8:00 for extra points
  11. Late students have to dance by themselves in front of the class
  12. Start class 20 minutes after 8:00
  13. I’m so sorry

When I was a student, I wasn’t late.  I didn’t need a punishment or an incentive to be on time.  I realize that some of my students work until 1:00 a.m. and get home late.  Some students travel for 1 hour and 40 minutes each way to Foothill.  I get that.

I have another 8:00 class, and coming late is not a problem.  Why?  It can’t be the material.  Is it seeing their friends, doing a last-minute job on their homework, not wanting to lose face, making a promise to themselves, having well-established habits for being on time?  Could it be that the class has formed a community that the students enjoy?

It is at the end of the quarter, and it is probably too late for the class with the tardiness problems.  But I am wondering how I could have handled this better and how I will handle this if it appears again.


3 thoughts on “On Being Late

  1. I have the same experience -with students coming in late – but it’s a little different in my classes since they are community-based, non-credit classes. I thought your students made some good suggestions – but the one’s I like best are strength-based. Rewarding those who arrive on time – with extra credit for example – reinforces positive behavior without ‘punishing’ the latecomers.

    In my class – I wait 5 minutes or so then start the class without them. When the latecomers arrive I ask them not to disturb the class and quietly take their seat. That is punishment enough, I believe – drawing attention to their lateness and singling them out.

    Being someone who is often ‘chasing the clock’ I do have sympathy for the late arrivals. Never-the-less, it is an important life skill to master – and one that will reduce stress and improve the quality of their work if heeded.


    1. I have often taught the 730a/800a block classes at Foothill, and I actually used to start every term asking the students why they chose the first class of the day. A few of them noted they were morning people, etc., but most merely said either they wanted to take my class specifically (as recommended by a friend, etc.) or it was the only class that had openings/fit their other schedule. I realized the aspect of prioritization there, and while I despise the idea of treating college students like K-12 kids, I often did start in-class assignments and/or quizzes right at the start of class to get the students motivated to get there on time. Whether it was a late bus or a flat tire or a slow carpool lane, the excuses for late arrivals disappeared kind of quickly. However, even when I teach sections at different times (afternoon, evening), the same issues would come up. Whether it’s a lack of responsibility, awareness or preparedness, the above tactics seemed to work rather well in fixing the issue. Of course, I cannot have a test/exam/quiz every day, but one or two “pop” quizzes early in the term solved the problem very effectively for me.


  2. From your list, I can see two things: 1) students are very comfortable with you, and 2) they rely on the reward and punishment system.
    I think the fact that they are very comfortable with you is tremendous. This means there is a certain level of trust and openness which can lead to accountability–as your survey was indicating. I find that 2, student reliance on the reward and punishment system is the most difficult thing to break. I suppose the question is how can you shift from accountability to agency? ironsamasu591 points at this when he realizes the aspects of prioritization in his students taking the early morning class. But, I suppose your question is how do you make that shift outside of the reward and punishment system? I still wonder about this too. Sometimes I think it is about fostering a community within the classroom that values their participation and their classmates participation. As an interconnected model, where each students particular choice to take the course has space for exploration from that point on within the course. I wonder if you may be spot on that the students have formed some kind of community they enjoy, which would then require a slight shift!


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