Dealing With Tardiness

Attendance is more than a housekeeping task that teachers are responsible for completing each day—it's a way to look after your students. Attendance records tell you whether a student is almost always, usually, sometimes, or never present on time or at all.

Negative trends in tardiness are naturally detrimental to your instructional goals, but they are also detrimental to the students that are tardy. Chronic tardiness can cause students to fall behind academically and lead to increased stress levels for you and the student.

Deal with tardiness once and for all by implementing effective tardy policies that allow you to work together with students to deal with the problems they face. Whether their lateness is excusable but still needs to be addressed or inexcusable and requires immediate disciplinary action, learn strategies for helping students overcome their tardiness here.

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Find out What's Going On

You can never know what is causing a student to be consistently late unless you ask. Without passing judgment on a student or making them feel as if their tardiness is their fault, get to the bottom of the problem. Show the student that you intend to solve this issue together and that they are not alone. Odds are, they do not deserve all the blame for being late.

In many cases, students are not late because they don't try to be on time. Complications related to home life are common factors contributing to regular tardiness. These could include parents or guardians being unable to help students get ready in the morning, lack of transportation, numerous morning chores that must be completed before leaving for school, or some other unknown variable that has nothing to do with a student's level of commitment to school.

First and foremost, t is not your job to make a student feel guilty for being late. Rather, it is your job to invest in their life and that includes finding out what obstacles they are facing. Some students might not require much support to make a change, while others will need you to intervene. Before doing anything else, find out if there is anything you can do to help.

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Make the Beginning of Class Important

Security Guard Watching Elementary Students Running
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For students whose tardiness is simply caused by a lack of respect for class start times, apply additional pressure to arrive on time by making the start of class extra important. Assign warm-ups and quizzes within the first few minutes of class to communicate to your students that tardiness is not an option.

Some teachers wait until all students are present to begin anything, but this teaches students that class will wait for them. Your tardy students need to understand that their lateness affects the whole class and will not be tolerated. Establish a routine that holds students more responsible for getting to your class on time and always take attendance right away to quickly determine who is missing.

Conference with repeat offenders about what needs to change, don't just watch as they continually fail to be there by the time activities begin. The purpose of a consistent start-of-class routine is to demonstrate the importance of punctuality, not punish perpetually late students.

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Implement Logical Consequences

Detention is not a solution for tardiness. Forcing students to give up some of their time because they cost you a portion of yours is neither reasonable nor purposeful. In this case, the punishment too closely matches the crime—if the lesson that you are trying to teach is that a student shouldn't waste your time, why would you waste theirs?

The best solution to tardiness is the use of logical consequences. These are consequences of behavior that make sense because they solve the problem as directly as possible. They do not mirror a student's actions, they correct them. For example, if a student demonstrates poor behavior on the carpet during morning meeting, a logical consequence would be to take away the privilege of attending morning meeting until that student is ready to behave.

Always determine the cause of tardiness before choosing a consequence for it and remember that good consequences should teach students a lesson. Examples of logical consequences for tardiness include:

  • Have students sit by themselves for a while if they are late because they talk to friends.
  • Take away a student's responsibility to choose their own seat if they are not showing enough responsibility to arrive to class on time.
  • Have students that lack time-management skills help you plan your schedule for the day.
  • Require students to apologize to their class when their tardiness is disruptive.
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Be Consistent

Tardy students will only get the message that tardiness is a problem if you are consistent with your discipline. If you are lenient one day and strict the next, regularly tardy students are likely to continue taking their chances with being late. The same goes for taking different action with different students—repeat offenders all need to experience the same consequences in order for your policy to work.

Your district might already have a few tardiness policies in place and it's your job to make sure that your own policy adheres to these guidelines. Work to consistently enforce the rules that are the same for the whole school when it comes to lateness so that students don't have to learn an entire set of new rules each year.

Additionally, when an entire school enforces the same policies for on-time arrival, teachers can help each other out by reminding students that are not their own about rules and students can help each other in the same way. Schoolwide tardy policies can be extremely effective, so use any in place at your school to your advantage.

View Article Sources

  • Danielson, Charlotte. Enhancing Student Achievement: A Framework for School Improvement. ASCD: June 2017.

    Truancy: A Family Guide to Understanding and Seeking Help for Truancy Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses, Revision 1, United Nations, New York, 1998, para. 2.150.