Students who are tardy to class — What can you do?

If you’re a classroom instructor, you know that students who are tardy to class create a problem for you, their classmates and themselves.

Students who are late to class can become a distraction to you and their classmates, making noise in getting seated or letting the classroom door close loudly or making noise in getting seated.

The tardy students will have missed announcements or directions by being late and then may ask you or their classmates to explain what they have missed.

If a quiz or assignment is underway, the tardy students may ask for additional time to make up for the time they missed by being late.

What can you as a teacher do about students who are tardy to class, especially those students who are frequently tardy to class?

teaching panel

The panel of faculty and graduate students who had received teaching awards offered advice at UF’s orientation for new teaching assistants.

That was a question posed to the Panel of Experts at the University of Florida’s Orientation for New Teaching Assistants. The panel included faculty and graduate student teachers who had received UF’s Graduate Student Teaching Award:

  • Andrew Wolpert, Associate Professor, Classics, Director of IDS 1161: What is the Good Life and UF Quest 1
  • Christine Davis, Senior Lecturer, Biology
  • Melanie K. Viege, Senior Lecturer, Director of General Chemistry
  • Falcon Restrepo-Ramos, graduate student, Spanish & Portuguese Studies
  • Morgan Yacoe, graduate student, Art and Art History
  • Chris Brewer, graduate student, Chemistry

Student tardiness as a teaching concern was a good topic for the more than 400 new teaching assistants to consider. Here are the panel’s suggestions along with some of my recommendations.

Tip #1 – Include a policy about tardiness to class in your syllabus.

Develop a policy about tardies and include the policy in your syllabus.

You can consult with your colleagues and read other syllabi to help you determine what your policy will be. Will you allow a certain number of tardies and then lower the student’s attendance grade? Will you deduct points for an assignment turned in if the student is tardy to class on the day the assignment is due?

At the beginning of the course talk about your attendance and tardy policies, and, as needed, remind the students of the policy. Remember that different instructors will have different policies, so you want your students to know your expectations.

One response some instructors can have is to lock the classroom door and not let tardy students be admitted. I’d discourage that approach. In many cases, you won’t be able to lock the classroom door from the inside.

More importantly, you don’t want to keep someone from attending class, even if they are tardy. In most campus settings, students have to catch a bus, drive into campus and find a parking place, or walk a distance to get to your class. To prevent them from entering class after that effort can cause resentment.

Often the tardy student has a viable reason for being tardy – car trouble, a late bus, etc. I’d rather let the tardy student attend class, then after class explain what the reason was for the tardiness.

In my syllabus along with the tardy policy, I’d ask students who were tardy to come into class quietly and to talk with me after class about the reason for their late arrival.

Tip #2 – Be on time to class yourself.

Students will be looking to you to model the behaviors you want them to have. If you want them to be on time to class and ready to go, be sure that you are setting that example yourself.

Tip #3 – Don’t take the student’s tardiness personally.

Sometimes we as instructors think that a student is being disrespectful to us by being tardy. Typically there’s something else going on. (See the following suggestions.)

What if the student is frequently tardy to class?

Tip #4 – Talk with the student about the cause for being tardy.

Don’t have that conversation in front of the class but privately. Find out what’s going on.

You may find that the student’s work schedule is making her late to class or that he is getting a ride to campus with a friend who frequently is late. You may learn that the student is on medication and has trouble waking up in the morning.

Have a guided conversation to help the student figure out strategies for dealing with the tardiness, emphasizing how being tardy is having a negative impact on their performance in class. Also emphasize that the student can take actions to improve the situation and help is available.

#Tip 5 – Encourage students to utilize campus resources that provide assistance.

If the situation is beyond your scope, encourage the students to seek campus resources to assist and offer guidance on how to access those resources.

The University of Florida has U Matter We Care to help students dealing with a variety of issues, including financial concerns, bullying, depression, family problems, sexual assault, learning disabilities, and health problems.

Those campus resources have the trained staff to help students with big concerns.

Tip #6 – Don’t let too many classes go by before talking with the frequently tardy student.

Once a student is tardy twice, take action. The longer you wait, the more the tardiness is affecting the student in your course. If the student is dealing with an issue like financial issues or depression, the sooner the problem is addressed the better.

You’ll also find that often a student with problems in your class is having problems in other classes.

In talking with students, I’ve found a good question to ask is: “Tell me how your semester is going.”

Then you can hear about the big picture for the student – roommate problems or a breakup, having to pick up more hours at work, or having a really demanding class schedule.

This same advice about talking with students applies for students who frequently or absent or miss deadlines for assignments. Often something is going on outside of class that is affecting their performance in class.

Making the effort to talk with the student who is having difficulties can make a major difference in the student’s success in your course and, often, in the student’s overall success for the semester and beyond.

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