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Late Students....Frustrating, but.....

In the earlier years of my career, it would really bother me when a student was late.

Once I started taking those particular students aside and asking them why they were late, I heard some truly legitimate answers that were sometimes out of the student’s control. I am not saying that I gave every student an excuse for being late, but the vast majority had challenges that were making it very difficult to get to class on time. I ended up changing my attitude and perspective and just made sure, at the high school level, that the students knew how to slip in quietly and not disturb class.

The result of this is that I had fewer and fewer students that were late. Those that continued to be late had some challenges that they could not change. For example, one of my students had a mother that was schizophrenic. Sometimes she would be almost to school, and then her mother would panic, think that they were being followed by some criminal intending to do her harm and they’d have to turn around and go all the way back home again. Then my student would have to find some other way to get to school and so was late to class again. She was embarrassed by the situation and ultimately found a solution by getting help from another family member. In the meantime when she was late, I understood.

While I still expected students to be respectful and try to be to class on time, I also understood that things happen in life. One of my students came late one day, and seemed quite upset. When I had a moment, I asked him if he was OK. He said, “not really.” I asked him what happened and he explained that he had a fight with his mother that morning and she had thrown hot coffee on him. The coffee was so hot that it burned him. When he showed me where it landed on him he had bright red second-degree burns all over his chest and side. He did not make up some story. He was late for a serious reason.

Not all of the situations were this dramatic or dire, but I learned that rather than jump to some conclusion, I should wait and find out what the issue was. Everyone has their story.

From the student’s perspective what they can do to improve the situation is to make sure if they are late to slip in quietly and get right to work. I have had some students that would come in late and start talking and disturbing class. That is not OK. If you are already late do not draw attention to yourself. The other thing a student can do is take time when the teacher has a moment, to explain what’s happening and why they’re late. Sometimes the teacher can do things to help that student. For example, one student that I had that was late simply needed more bus tokens to be able to get to school. I talked to his principal and we started providing him with bus tokens on a regular basis, and he was never late again.

Final Thought: While it is important to address situations where students are habitually late, it is equally or more important to find out why the student is late. The student may have a tough situation that they are dealing with. If not, then your classroom management consequence can be applied.

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