Late again? What’s the excuse?

Manaswini Sridhar

I have been a high school teacher for a decade now. I do have to exercise a lot of control over my students, but it has always been doable and not too pressurizing. However the latest irksome trend is to (deliberately) come late to class. Students walk into class when I am already well into the subject or have handed out the test. I feel compelled to react, and give the students a dressing down. Sometimes I choose to ignore the interruption. I realize that neither is a good tactic. What can I do to feel I am in charge of the classroom and we don’t lose precious time? How do I make students appreciate the value of time?

Lecturing the latecomer in class only ends up wasting time. The latecomer most often basks in the limelight and the other students are amused and entertained for a while. The teacher, however, loses track of what she has been teaching and also loses focus, allowing her emotions to usurp reason and thereby giving up on the structured teaching she had planned for the class. The result is unpleasantness and more loss of time. Remember that the intent of the chronic latecomer is to disrupt the class. The student normally makes much ado of putting his/her things in place and then chats with a fellow student to discover what page to turn to. Some students are even daring enough to ask the teacher questions relating to what has already been taught and explained.

If your school is not very strict with latecomers, lay down your own firm, personal ground rules from day one. Explain that if you can come to work on time, they too can come to school on time. Here are certain ways of dealing with latecomers so that they do not completely succeed in hijacking your class.

  1. Ignore latecomers. Never attempt to elicit why they have come late to class in the presence of the other classmates. It either leads to laughter because of the silliness of the reason (‘thought it was Sunday’) or reeks of rebellion (‘was feeling too lazy to come’). It does not solve the teacher’s problem in any way.
  2. Talk to administration and make sure that two seats are allocated right at the back of the class and near the door. Ensure that the students do not walk to their usual seat using the front door. Thus, latecomers cannot make the grand entry that they might like to. There is less disturbance and you can more or less continue with your teaching.
  3. Many teachers take attendance when they are well into the middle of the class. This is convenient for latecomers. Take attendance immediately after the bell rings, thus marking any latecomer absent. If the student wants to be marked late and not absent, they need to stay back after class and come up with a plausible excuse for being late.
  4. Come up with a logical system that allows you to deal with latecomers. For instance, if they are late three times, they either have to meet the principal or are marked absent for one day. If they are late more than 5 times a month, they could be either given additional homework or have marks deducted from a test. It may sound like a draconian measure, but it will help instill some sense of responsibility in the student. After all, the outside world does not excuse adults who are constantly late.
  5. If you have set out to give a test, do it immediately after the bell rings. Do not give the latecomer extra time. This is not being fair to the other students who have made it in time to class.
  6. Similarly, hand out corrected tests at the beginning of the class, with comments, wherever necessary. Do not keep the latecomer’s paper on his/her desk. Insist that the student sees you after class to get his/her paper. This may mean going late to the next class or losing recess time.
  7. Ask latecomers to stay back after class to fill in a late arrival form clearly and neatly. Students should state the following: time they came into class, the reason for their late arrival, the last time they came in late, the reason for it, and what measures they are going to take to come in time. Students dread filling up such forms and so they will probably start taking measures to be on time. Scan/photocopy the form and send it to the parents. Write a note saying that this kind of behaviour is viewed as questioning the authority of the teacher and the school and will therefore not be encouraged.
  8. For the younger children, who love to be rewarded, put up a chart with the names of the students and the days of the month. Draw or place a happy face on the day the student comes in time for class. Draw a sad face for the days the student arrives late. Allow the students to count the number of happy faces they have for the month and have the other students clap for those who have the maximum number of happy faces. This could encourage the other students to come in time for school. At the end of the term, students who have never come late to class can be given certificates. Rewarding the early birds rather than punishing the latecomers is also a way of giving the right strokes.
  9. Allow students who come in on time to wear a smiley badge. Students love being in charge, so make use of this trait to hone their leadership skills. Assign a student for every day of the month to be in charge. The student stands at the classroom door and hands out smiley badges to the students who come into class on time. Students exchange smiles (a good way of getting them to greet others warmly), the receiver says a thank you and the giver says a welcome. Soft skills are tacitly taught along the way. The student counts the number of badges handed out. At the end of the day, students give back their badges while the volunteer counts to make sure that all the badges have been handed in. This teaches the students responsibility and each will be eager to play the role.
  10. During PTA meetings, talk to the parents about the importance of being in time for school. Emphasize that it undermines the confidence of the students and they are unable to focus since they come into class with mixed emotions, and not all of them necessarily positive.

Children generally like to do things in time. Parents need to understand the importance of teaching these value systems to their children. Ultimately they too need to be accountable for disciplining their wards. Spell out to the parents and the students that by being late, they are being rude. They are screaming out loud and clear that their time is precious but not the time of the teacher or their classmates. Make sure that they understand that this is what they are stating by being consistently late. A child may want to question the authority of the teacher, but would definitely not be comfortable with giving the impression that the rest of the class is totally unimportant!

The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Chennai. She can be reached at manaswinisridhar@gmail.com.