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Winning the Tardy Battle: Creating a System that Gets Students to Class on Time

written by: Ellis Scott • edited by: Carly Stockwell • updated: 2/21/2013

It can be tempting to ignore the problem of late students. After all, aren’t we always told to choose our battles wisely? However, if you fail to fight this behavior, it will escalate until few of your students make it on time. Fortunately there are some strategies that can overcome this behavior.

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    Late students can be annoying and disruptive to your classroom. If you fail to halt the practice early on in the year, the problem can escalate until few of your students make it on time. In addition, if you let it slide, keen students will soon learn that 10 seconds tardy is the same as 3 minutes tardy and they will become progressively later.

    Here are some strategies to help you win the war on tardiness.

    shutterstock 102482048 1) In is In - Practice Saying “No"

    This is where it starts and this is where new teachers make their biggest mistake. Once a student enters your classroom, they are in. Period. No dropping items off and leaving for water, the bathroom, or any other reason they can think of. Perfect the practice of saying no. You should be the gatekeeper at the door and once their body enters, it doesn’t leave.

    2) Self-Documentation

    The second most important thing you need to do is establish the fact that students are required to be on time to your class. Be clear about what “on time" means. Nobody, including students, like to be docked for something they believe they deserve. Does on time mean through the door? Does it mean in their assigned seat ready to work? Be specific.

    If a student is not on time as defined by your classroom procedures, then have a system in place to document their tardiness. Let them know you are documenting it as well, but there should be something in place that they have to do.

    One idea is to have posters for each class on the wall and students must initial and date next to their name every time they are tardy. This provides a great visual as well as immediate feedback each time they are tardy. It also creates an atmosphere of competition between classes that can be utilized later.

    Another idea is to have a 3-ring binder for each class with a sheet for every student. Students then need to write the date they were tardy, sign it, and write a reason for their tardiness. These sheets are helpful in parent conferences because if a student has 10 unexcused tardies without good reasons, you can quickly convert a parent to your side.

    Additionally, if you assign detentions for unexcused tardies, don’t be afraid to have the student fill out the detention slip and basically assign themselves a detention. This helps them realize that they only have themselves to blame, not the teacher.

    3) Individual and Class Wide Incentives (Bribery)

    This strategy is to bribe the individual students and the class to be on time. Using the poster example above, it’s easy to see which class is losing as well as which student(s) are responsible for that loss. None of your students want to upset their peers. Put peer pressure to work for you and you’ll be surprised at the results.

    It’s a good idea to give incentives to individual students as well. If you have a class money system or some other incentive that is easy to pass out, it doesn’t take much time or effort to hand it to students as they walk through the door. Do it consistently enough and students will show up on time to get what you’re passing out, whether it be candy, classroom cash, extra credit, extra bathroom passes, etc.

    It doesn’t need to cost much either. For example, you could give each student a calendar for the semester. If they have it open when they walk through the door, they get a stamp which can be converted at the end of the semester to extra credit. This is a simple, cheap, yet effective bribe. Free points for being on time!

    Be sure whatever you are giving out has value to them. If you implement something and it isn’t working, it could be that the students just don’t care. Maybe extra credit won’t work for ADD prone Billy because he has a 10% in your class anyway. But perhaps he would be on time if he got to be the one to stamp all the folders. Be creative and once most of your class makes it on time, individualize incentives for those last few who are still reluctant to be on time.

    4) Counterintelligence

    After implementing everything above, you may still have one or two students who still come late. Discuss the problem with them and make sure there isn’t any legitimate reason why they can’t be on time. If there is a real concern, brainstorm a way they can fix it. Maybe they’re taking the long route to class. I have been known to meet students before (or after) school and walk with them from my class to the class they claim they can’t make it from. Before we start, I have them push the start button on my iPhone timer. When we get to the class, they stop it. When they see that they have plenty of time between classes, they often smile and start coming on time.

    However, you may have one that still pushes the envelope. Speak with their other teachers to gather intelligence. Ask them what they are doing and if the student makes it to their classroom on time. Then copy what works, don’t reinvent the wheel.

    5) Consistent Consequences

    Last but not least is to have consistent consequences. When it’s time to start dishing out the consequences, be consistent. Make sure you’ve done all the steps above so that few students get to the consequence stage. The biggest reason for inconsistent consequences is because there is simply not enough time in a day. If you try to start giving consequence before you go through the other steps to create a system that basically works, you will have far too many tardy students to be consistent with your consequences. You cannot call the parents of 35 students every week. But you can call 2 or 3. So please do not implement consequences before you get a system in place that works fairly well or you will burn yourself out trying to keep up with it. A good system takes care of the problem so you don’t have to.