Explore potential strategies.
Students are trying to challenge the instructor’s authority.
In some instances, students come to class late to test the instructor or challenge his or her authority. This can happen if, for any reason, the instructor’s authority is in question – for example, if the instructor is timid or does not seem in command of the class or the material. Some students may also seek to challenge the authority of particular categories of instructors, such as instructors who are young, female, minority, or non-English speakers.
Articulate your policy about lateness in your syllabus and on the first day of class. It will be easier to respond firmly and authoritatively to lateness if your policy is clear and in writing.
Send a clear message that you will not tolerate lateness. Remind students of your lateness policy and enforce it. Also, respond immediately by registering 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.”)
Claim students’ respect by presenting yourself with professionalism and authority. What constitutes appropriate dress and demeanor will depend both on the culture of your department (business schools, for example, tend to be more formal than art departments) and on your personal style. The key is to find a mode of self-presentation that works for you in the context of your own course.
Far more important than how you present yourself physically is for the course itself to be well-designed and meaningful. Students will be considerably less likely to challenge your authority if they see how the pieces of the course fit together and feel that the education they are receiving is valuable. Also, if the majority of students perceive the course as useful to them, they are more likely to exert pressure on their classmates to behave courteously.
Sometimes instructors respond to student lateness by simply waiting to begin the substantive part of class. This is a mistake that will only encourage students to come later. Instead, start on time and make the beginning of class meaningful, so that students who are on time will be rewarded and students who come late will pay a price. One way is simply to jump into important material; another is to give a short quiz at the beginning of class: students who come late will miss the quiz and sacrifice the points.
Treat students with the same respect you want them to show towards you. 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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