When Your Students Are Late to Class, Is That a Sign of Disrespect?

by Jennie Ortiz

When I started teaching, my family couldn’t understand why I was so adamant about being at work at least an hour before my class started. On remembering her own college experiences, my mother mentioned that professors would be the last ones to show up (most of the time they were late to their own classes) and the first ones to leave. They only dealt with students during the class period, never giving more and never giving less.

As a faculty member, I can’t fathom being the last person to walk into class nor can I  imagine being the first to leave the lecture hall. After class there are always  students who want to discuss the material. It’s my job to provide an environment where learning and respect are above all.

However, it seems that some students don’t feel the same. No matter how specific my syllabus is when it comes to lateness, a handful of students always seem to find a way to shuffle in long after the class has started. There are even those who leave early, never giving an explanation as to why they disappear a half hour before class ends.

At the colleges and universities where I teach, I am given the reigns when it comes to dealing with lateness. As a rule,  I treat being on time as a way of showing respect for the class, for fellow classmates and I ultimately see it as a good sign of participation. Punctuality shows me that the student is taking the class seriously.

Of course, there are times when the printer breaks, the parking lot is full, or the alarm never went off. At one of the places where I teach the parking situation is so bad, students have to arrive at least an hour before classes start to get a space. At another of the colleges, the rail road service can run late at times, and at the third college many students have to make sure their own kids get home from school before they can head off to class. All of this is understandable and I try to be as accommodating as possible, however, what happens when a student is continuously late?

Yes, it’s better that a student is late than if the student doesn’t show up at all, but lateness is a pet peeve of mine. When a student walks in ten or even twenty minutes late, it distracts not only me from my lecture, but it also distracts the students. Lateness suggests that the class doesn’t matter. “Come to class when it’s convenient.” It’s a bitter pill for me to swallow, because there is no doubt in my mind that students would have a lot to say if  I came in late and then was the first person to leave.

To keep my cool when it comes to those students who are always walking in after my lectures have started, I go over my rules the first day of class and occasionally remind my students as the semester progresses. Three tardies constitute an absence, which if combined with other unexcused absences, can drop the class grade at the end of the semester. A student can have an A in her/his assignments, but because of lateness, s/he can end up with a C or lower. I also inform my students that leaving early (15 minutes+) without notifying me beforehand will be considered the same as being late. With all of this on paper, there is no need for me to say anything to these students when they do come in late. I don’t have to give stern warnings or become exasperated with their actions.

If a student consistently shows up late, I ask to see the individual after class. I give the student a second chance. I say I’m willing to ignore the prior tardies if s/he shows up on time for the rest of the classes of the semester. Most of the time, this motivates the students to show they care for the class and ultimately their grades.

Thing is, I’m human and when my students are habitually late it upsets me. Being late is a sign of disrespect, especially when students don’t take the time to explain. Sometimes, I get the urge to come in late to prove my point, but I also get the urge to propose to Adrien Brody. In the end, my actions serve as an example of what is acceptable and what is not for an academic community. Disrespect can’t be solved with more disrespect. If my example isn’t enough, then the consequences of not following the rules is stated in the syllabus.

I’m curious to know the protocol for lateness and absence at other colleges, as well as your thoughts on students being late and how you deal with it?

About the Freeway Flyer: Jenny Ortiz is a quite serious New Yorker, except when unicorns (specifically chubby unicorns) are involved. When she isn’t pleading with Kurt Sutter via Twitter to be her mentor, she is teaching at St. John’s University, Adelphi University, and LaGuardia Community College (see, quite serious). When she isn’t teaching, she’s hanging out with her friends showing off  earth and water bending skills (not serious, but super fun).  When she is alone and it’s raining, she likes to read Haruki Murakami, or listen to the Broken Bells and daydream.  If you want to be a fan, you can read Jenny’s work on fictionatwork.com, Blink-ink.com, Jersey Devil Press, dogeatcrow.com, Break Water Review,Eighty Percent Magazine and InkSpill Magazine…or you can follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/jnylynn.

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11 Comments
  1. Hungry_Bolshevik says

    Lateness is bad, but I’d want to know what barriers the student is struggling with, addressing why they’re late seems better than taking it personal or punishing them.

  2. Kristin Carlson says

    Lateness is bad, but I’d want to know what barriers the student is struggling with, addressing why they’re late seems better than taking it personal or punishing them.

  3. Veigh Fornoone says

    Three tardies equals one absence. After the third absence in the semester, I can drop them.

  4. Angela Drummond-Mathews says

    When students are late, it has nothing to do with you or the class. It has to do with them. They have their own issues to deal with. It is fruitless to think that their behavior is about us. That is not to say that lateness shouldn’t have consequences, but there is no point in taking it personally.

  5. Vangella Hazle says

    Every student’s situation is different. Some arrive from jobs or other commitments. The fact that they showed…

  6. Kathy Meyer says

    I am in a poor community where many of my students are first-time college students, they work one or more jobs, and often have children and take care of family members. I even have students who get up 3 hours early to wait in line at the border of Mexico in order to get here on time. They are actually pretty respectful of their education and let me know when they are having problems getting to class on time. I don’t penalize for lateness knowing these circumstances, and sometimes can’t even imagine how they get here at all.

  7. Kate MW says

    I mark down for excessive absence in my freshman classes. It usually distracts others. And they miss important information and announcements that I will have to repeat.

  8. Heather Miceli says

    Meh. It’s better that they show late than not show at all.

  9. Christen Pudlewski Embry says

    The thing is, ultimately by being late they are only hurting themselves. Just like missing class, or texting, or any other self-disruptive behavior. Late students creep in, find their seats and don’t bother other people. The author said that lateness is a “pet peeve” of hers. Our peeves shouldn’t make our policies. Late, absent, self-distracting students all tank their own grades without me having to do it through penalties, because they don’t get the material and their assignments show that. Obviously, if a student is disrupting the rest of the class, that’s the time I need to talk to them about it. But screwing themselves up? Not really my problem.

  10. Amanda L. Pugh says

    I do actually. They get two freebies a semester and after that it’s points off their attendance/participation grade.

  11. Julia Holcomb says

    You get to know who’s always late and who does their best. And with the commute in my area, sometimes the late person is me.

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