April 29th, 2011

Students Who Are Chronically Late to Class


Students who display a passive-aggressive personality style may do so in a variety of ways … from chronic tardiness to sleeping in class. Let’s look at the student who’s always running late.

As you know, some students are late to class on a regular basis, and in doing so are probably displaying a form of resistance or defiance—and it is wise to see it as such.

When questioned about their habitual lateness, students are apt to justify or excuse it on the grounds that they have other tasks to attend to, such as child care or job responsibilities that preempt punctual class attendance. Many instructors are thus made to feel guilty and are thereby disarmed by such reasons or excuses. They allow students to talk them into considering these excuses as authentic extenuations.

If this sounds familiar to you, here are a few opinions on the subject to consider.

  1. Arriving to class punctually is an important responsibility borne entirely by the student, not the instructor.
  2. Although child care or job responsibilities are clearly time consuming, and when combined with the demands connected with attending college can be downright overwhelming, it is again largely the responsibility of the student, not the instructor, to decide which takes priority — one’s job, one’s child care responsibilities, or punctually attending classes.
  3. Lateness is often a rude and disruptive form of behavior, especially when it is accompanied by doors opening and shutting, loud noises, and students distractingly passing in front of the instructor to get to their seats.
  4. Habitual lateness to class, much like when friends or family members habitually arrive late for social gatherings and usually infuriate us because of their thoughtlessness, is typically a sign of devaluation of and contempt for instructors and other students who have arrived to class punctually. Even more important, it is most likely a sign of devaluation and contempt for one’s own education, albeit unconscious, since the student’s habitual lateness will necessarily curtail his or her time in class and cause the student to forfeit important opportunities for learning.
  5. Instructors who habitually arrive late to class themselves are poor models for their students and should find any reasonable means possible to correct this form of unprofessional behavior.

Generally speaking, strict rules and adverse consequences for chronic lateness almost always improve attendance and punctuality. Remember, this form of passive-aggressive behavior can be remedied if you allow yourself to use a clear, fair, and proportionate set of adverse consequences to deal with it.

Excerpted from Coping with Seven Disruptive Personality Types in the Classroom. Learn more about this whitepaper »

  • Lance

    “students are apt to justify or excuse it on the grounds that they have other tasks to attend to, such as child care or job responsibilities that preempt punctual class attendance” or more correctly, punctual arrival. I don’t get these excuses. The most common ones are heavy traffic and overslept.

    This isn’t passive-aggressive behavior. It is merely a lack of self-discipline. Students correct this behavor when they want to, such as to avoid grade reduction.

    • 58173

      That would mean tardiness is automatically petty.

  • Stanley Forrester

    In my experience simply addressing the issue with the student has been very effective in the past.

    • T. Smith

      That doesn't always work as I have had numerous conversations with a current student as recently as yesterday. We have a strict attendance policy, as my students have to complete 1500 hours and then take a licensing exam. She is failing my class due to tardiness (we have a Daily Task at the beginning of every class and if a student is late, is is a zero) this student should be graduating in less than a week and continues to come late to class.

    • Nathan

      Doesn't work at my school. Students are late regardless. Tell them what you want, they still won't care.

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  • eddoc

    The first year I taught on the college level I never dreamed that students would show up to class as much as 20 minutes late and expect to be counted as being in attendance. The next semester I made a new policy; there is no such thing as tardy when the door is closed, class has started and you are absent. I no longer have a tardy problem. Oh, sure there have been students that will open the door 10 minutes after class has started and give me a sheepish look; my reply you are absent please close the door on your way out. Now, for my disclaimer I arrive to class on time, put down my books, make a few notes on the board, set up the power point, and have a little small talk with the class before I close the door. Which means the door doesn’t close to almost 3 minutes after the time class is to begin. Also on the first day of class I tell the class that if they are coming from the far end of the campus and they anticipate being tardy because of that to see me and we will work it out. I can’t tell you how this has made my class so much more enjoyable. Tardy-don’t take it!

    • marybart

      I think this is a very good approach!

    • CMM

      This is great. I will take your suggestions. Thanks so much.

  • Bob

    I think your type of student body should be a consideration. Most working adults learn the importance of punctuality. In grad school there were times I could not make it to class on time, and as a professional, I would have considered it rude for the teacher to embarrass me in front of the class.
    However, I get the point. As an instructor, being too lenient encourages a lackadaisical attitude toward my course. Discussing the problem individually with the problem student seems to be the most mature approach. Being a dictator might work for some, but will leave a negative impression on many students …and certainly does promote a creative learning environment.

  • Starbird

    When I was attending a university 30 years ago, attendance was only mandatory for lab classes or on test days. Student grades were based on their knowledge of the material. So, why is there this push for attendance now?
    The college I attend currently will withdraw a student from the course if they miss 5 classes, even though they've already paid for the entire class. How is this fair? In some of my classes, I have real life experience that would allow me to run loops around the instructor, but testing out or taking the class online is not available. Personally, I think this whole required attendance thing is ridiculous. I'm 52 years old and feel disrespected by being treated like a high school student by default. If a student can demonstrate "A" level knowledge of the material, he should get an "A".
    As the working world moves into the 21st century, performance is what employers are concerned about. Working hours are becoming more flexible. So why have college instructors attitudes gone in the opposite direction? The mindset I’m seeing here seems backward to me.

  • Diane

    I teach high school and lateness is a real problem. Some days only 1/2 to 1/3 of the class arrives on time. We are not allowed to refuse entry and most of us have run out of ideas for adverse consequences for chronic lateness . Some teachers have the students sing if they are late some write their names down and have a weekly draw from the late students names for who will clean the room after school on Friday but nothing seems to work . I have tired not giving attention to the late comers who have missed the lesson but then they cause more problems from not knowing what to do.

    • Death Lord

      Perhaps instead of trying to embarrass them you actually try to help or encourage them, or make class seem pleasant.

  • Teresa

    I teach cosmetology at the college level. We have a "daily task" that they have to do complete at the start of class, they have the 1st 10 minutes of class to complete and there is NO make up for it, they get a ZERO if they are late. This is averaged in with their professionalism grade, if they are late, that professionalism grade will be an automatic "Fail" for the day! It works for some, and not for others. We withdraw them from the program if they miss 5 classes, for 2 reasons. They students have to accumulate 1500 clock hours to sit for their state boards, and it is a requirement with our accrediting agency.

  • Teresa

    @Starbird above, Accredation requirements have changed and if our students aren't attending class, we could lose our accredation. Your lacksidasical attitude toward attending class and the fact that you are 52 and feel like you are being disrespected, why not act like an adult and come to class, after all YOU are paying for an education but yet you don't feel like you have to be there in the chair ? It sounds to me like you have no respect for your instructor either so I wonder what are your plans after school….. How can you perform if you're not there…. I wouldn't hire you….. Employers that call me for references ALWAYS ask me about attendance and tardiness.


    @Teresa ABOVE, you need to consider both sides to this than having to be one sided! As a student myself and a full time worker, there are times when I have been late, I know that employers are looking for great punctuality but this is REAL people that are in the REAL workforce contributing to the economy and as a Teacher your duty is simply to TEACH those that are willing to learn, these working people are committing to develop their professional skills not just slacking OFF!! And your attitude is not acceptable, because if you knew what REAL people are doing than you would not have written the statement above, so get OVER your selflessness and give starbird a BREAK.

  • Prof. David

    For college students there are several issues here: 1) the professor may feel disrespected by a student for being late 2) for smaller classes, other student's learning is disrupted 3) student doesn't fully learn the material being taught.. For the first point, make it verbally clear what you consider disrespectful including taridness, excessive phone use, excessive talking and why they should consider is disrespectful as well. The WHY is the important part. Most would say "They should already know why." Don't assume. Just tell them upfront. The second point should be used as one of the Why's. Explain that you really don't mind that they walk in late. It's that everyone in the room looks at the person walking in late rather than the lesson. Some students will learn less because of a tardy and that they don't have the right to negatively affect others learning. Obviously this is less true for large lecture classes with 50-100 students. Thirdly, the professor should inform students that they are responsible for getting missed notes & assignments from other students and shouldn't expect the professor to repeat everything. A nice website can take care of this. Lastly, a student's grade should only reflect if they've learned the objectives of the course-nothing else. Well written exams and term papers will accurately measure student learning of course objectives and if a 52 year old wants to show up just for exams and ace them, that's fine…they've learned the objectives of the course, A+.

  • M Smith

    I agree with the people making the argument that if they ace the class, attendance shouldn't matter! I too think it ridiculous that I can pay thousands of dollars for classes only to be dismissed for tardiness or not attending. I'm paying for the class, period. I'm the customer in this situation! I run two businesses, am involved in alot of community service, have employees, have an obligation to customers, and attend school full time. If I can pass the class it shouldn't matter if my body heated the seat or not! Yes my education is important to me, however in today's world you have to hustle to make ends meat. So if I need to show up late to put food on my table, I shouldn't be reprimanded for walking in a few minutes late every now & then. Again, we are paying the teachers wages & should be treated as adults not children.

  • Grace

    So, if you pay for a course, you should earn an A. Huh…after all, the student is the customer…Okay. Thanks, M. Smith.

  • Gregory

    Who wrote this rubbish? Throughout my education I had to juggle multiple (significant) responsibilities, so I have some empathy for my students. I do not deny that continual lateness, such as arriving 10 minutes late to class for a month, is a problem. In this case I might email the student to ask to speak with him or her after class. But if you teach in a city where the major form of transportation is not the automobile, it may not be surprising that some students runs a few minutes late.

    The author makes numerous assumptions about these irreverent, tardy students, such as that they are "probably displaying a form of resistance or defiance," they are late due to their "thoughtlessness", or to express their "devaluation of and contempt for instructors." Contempt? If I had such a pedantic instructor when I was in school, I might as well develop some contempt! I have had A-students have a bit of a lateness issue at times. Should I have interpreted this as an abject hatred for me and my class? Does the author have any ANOVAs or other statistical evidence to support all of her claims?

    I oftentimes do not even notice late students if the class is in a lecture hall. In a smaller setting it is noticeable, but students know not to cross directly in front of me. It takes about 10 seconds for a student to sit. During this time I am occupied by more important affairs, although I will note that I am not easily distracted. The students should not be either, if you are an effective educator. Your students should be so focused on every minute of the lecture that they learn to ignore distractions, daydreaming, rufflings, lest they miss an important point. I'm glad they have come to learn and expand their knowledge, and I hope to make it as much as a stress-free environment as possible.

    Some of these students have it hard enough as it is. Some deal with the stresses of work, family, and health concerns. If you had to choose (not that we would need to) between a consistently late A+ student, and a consistently early F-student, which would you pick? I would feel much more disrespected by students who make little attempt to pass the class (i.e. fail), after I devoted hours preparing for lectures, giving them, grading homework, providing feedback, etc. Let's be honest–nothing irks a professor or instructor more than a student who repeats the same mistakes on each paper, after you corrected them each time!

    Demonizing late students is not the best way to go about this. A bit of finesse helps.


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