Teaching Opinion

No More Timeouts for Tardiness

By David Ginsburg — April 30, 2011 2 min read
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Some teachers greet tardy students with shame: “That’s your third time this week, Charles!” Others prefer sarcasm: “Nice to see Erica has decided to join us.” Then there are those who are welcoming: “Good morning, Mario. Take off your jacket, and please join us.” And in many cases, teachers follow up their greetings--regardless of tone--by catching latecomers up on what they’ve missed.

So, which approach is best? None of them. In fact, the best way to greet tardy students is to not greet them at all. One reason for this is that when you draw attention to kids who are late, their classmates are likely to give them attention too: “Yo, what’s up, dude?”

An even bigger reason is that interrupting class to acknowledge and accommodate tardy students is a disservice to punctual students. For that matter, it’s a disservice to the latecomers themselves, since it conditions them to go through life expecting similar treatment. Yet have you ever heard of a referee delaying a game so that late-arriving fans could grab a hot dog? Or a religious leader holding up a service as oversleepers filed in? And so, just as the show must go on once the curtain rises in the theatre, so must the lesson go on once the bell rings in your classroom.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying you should ignore tardiness altogether. Certainly there are students who are late due to circumstances beyond their control, others who could use a talking-to, and others who would benefit from time-management troubleshooting. It may therefore be appropriate for you to comfort, confront, or coach students accordingly (or refer them to a counselor or administrator for support). But the time to intervene is when you don’t need to interrupt class to do so.

It’s important, then, to continue teaching without missing a beat when students walk in late. But it’s also important to take measures that allow students to ease into class as quietly and self-sufficiently as possible. With this in mind, here are some ways to keep you from having to take time out to prevent tardy students from being left out:

  • Provide a bin or basket near the entrance to the room for students to place tardy passes (vs. handing them to you).
  • Place handouts and other materials in bins or baskets near the entrance or rear of the room (whichever would be least disruptive) so that late students can obtain them on their own.
  • Require late students to ask a classmate what they missed (at an appropriate time, of course) rather than ask you. For lower grades especially, you might want to assign students “buddies” for this purpose.

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