Students showing up late to class is a common challenge for teachers. Try not to get frustrated, discouraged, or take it personally.
- First, it’s a good idea to identify whether their tardiness is avoidable or not. Do they come straight from work? Do they use unreliable transportation? Are they doing the best they can to be punctual? You can ask them directly if there is a time that works better for them. Students will often not tell their teacher that their schedule has changed, so it is a good idea to see if that is the problem first. If they are doing the best they can to get to class on time, but are still having trouble due to unavoidable circumstances, thank them for coming whenever they arrive, and appreciate their effort. You may want to encourage them to email, message, call or text you if they think they will be more than 5 minutes late.
If you ask what they do before class and discover that the tardiness is avoidable (for example, they often forget about class), being “strict with love” often works. Here are some specific suggestions:
- Begin by talking about how much you enjoy teaching them! Use specific encouragement (i.e. You are fun, motivated, hard-working, etc).
- You can say “Class time is important. When we start on time, you get more practice, and you learn more. How can I help us start on time? Can you set an alarm on your phone? Let’s do that together now.” For online classes, maybe the alarm is 5 minutes before each class. For in-person classes it depends on their drive time. Have a discussion with them about when it’s necessary to be on time, and when it can be flexible. For example, you can talk about how it is important to be on time for appointments, such as doctor’s appointments, teacher conferences, work, etc. Maybe it isn’t so important to be on time for a birthday party, depending on the person organizing it. What about English class time? Do they think it is necessary to be on time for class? Why or why not?
If you are teaching a group, it is important to always start the class on time. You can do something that is important, but that you won’t need to repeat when the entire class is there.
For example, you can practice a page from the Pronunciation Fun with Pictures book, do a warm-up with the students that are present or play a game to review some of the content from the previous class. Students won’t want to miss that, but you also won’t impact the flow of progress through the curriculum and will provide valuable content for the students that arrive on time.
How we see time is a deeply rooted cultural value, and it takes people time to shift behaviors. There are no “right” answers to this common challenge. Sometimes we need to try a few strategies before we find one that sticks.