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Students’ expectations are out of line with the instructor’s.
There is wide variation in the classroom styles of instructors. For example, some instructors are bothered if students arrive a few minutes late; others are not. There is also a wide variation in departmental cultures, some of which may tolerate lateness more than others. International students, moreover, may come from cultures with a less strict emphasis on timeliness.
Because of this variability, students’ expectations regarding being on time may be substantially different from those of a particular instructor. Moreover, students may have an incorrect set of expectations regarding lateness in certain kinds of courses, such as courses that meet in the evening, are large, meet for 3 to 4 hours or more, or have relatively informal formats (e.g., studios, labs).
It is important to be even more explicit about your expectations for student behavior than you may think is necessary. You should articulate your policy about lateness in your syllabus and on the first day of class. If students are not told explicitly what your expectations are, they may assume what is appropriate in other classes they have taken (whether in high school, other departments, or other countries) is appropriate in yours – and they may be wrong.
Explain to students that lateness has social and professional costs. Explain that it distracts (and often annoys) their classmates and instructor and reflects badly on them, signaling poor time management skills, inattention to detail, and lack of conscientiousness.
The beginning of class is especially critical for students’ learning because that is when you make connections to previous materials and frame the day’s content in terms of key questions or points. In many ways, the beginning of class is analogous to the beginning of a film or the introduction to a book: by missing these parts students miss critical background and organizational information necessary for deeper understanding. Explain to students that by coming in late they not only miss important framing information but the distraction they create may cause their classmates to miss it too. To reinforce this point, be sure you do not waste the first few minutes of class. Instead, get started on time and begin with important, relevant material. Make sure there is an educational benefit to students who are on time.
There are a number of ways to penalize lateness. Some instructors institute a tardiness policy along with their attendance policy (e.g., two times late counts as one absence). Some simply draw attention to the behavior or register disapproval when a student enters late (e.g., pausing, frowning and making a pointed comment or posting a sign on the door such as: “You’re late; please be quiet when you enter.”) One instructor posts a note on his classroom door with a task – generally something mildly embarrassing like singing a verse from a song – that students must do to gain admittance if they arrive late. Another way to handle lateness is to give short quizzes at the beginning of class; students who come late will miss the quizzes and lose the points.
Be sure to arrive and get the class started on time. Dismiss the class on time, too. Students are more likely to respect your time if you respect theirs.
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