Dealing with Tardiness

Methods of dealing with tardiness vary from school to school, grade level to grade level, and teacher to teacher. The best systems are those that are school-wide and strictly enforced. For example, a high school might have a “tardy card,” which allows students to be late to a total of three classes per semester.

When the student is late, the instructor signs the tardy card. If the student does not have her tardy card or has reached the limit, then she gets a referral for tardiness. An additional component to this system really seems to motivate students: If they get through the semester without a single signature on their cards, the card gets entered in a drawing for prizes.

If your school does not have a unified policy or does not enforce the policy they do have, then it is up to you as the teacher to come up with a fair and consistent way of handling inevitable tardiness. There are various ways to handle this issue, and some methods are better and more appropriate than others.

Some examples of methods used include locking students out of the room, giving detention for tardiness, giving on-time quizzes, and creating your own version of the tardy card for your class. Of course, special consideration needs to be given to those students who are chronically tardy due to circumstances beyond their control.

Locking Students Out

Locking late students out of your room may seem like a good method to get kids to be punctual, but it should be avoided for reasons of liability. If something should happen to your students while they are locked out of your room or if they should vandalize or disrupt other classes, you will be partially to blame.

Another problem is that the locked-out students will be missing out on your class work. Since many schools do not allow you to count tardiness as an unexcused absence, students would have to make up the work later. In the end, this would probably result in more work for all of you.

Detention for Tardiness

Detention can be held before or after school. For individual rather than school-wide detention, the students should come to your class at the appointed time for assigned work. This can be an effective method as long as you follow through and give referrals to students who do not show up for their detention. However, you need to be aware of a few issues.

First, if the student's detention makes him miss the bus, then you will probably need to call the parents to discuss this. Many times students have no way of getting to school early or leaving late. Second, detention means an additional commitment from you. You have to stay in the room with the student the whole time of his detention. Finally, some of the students who are tardy will probably be those with whom you have personality conflicts. The thought of spending 15 to 30 minutes alone in a room with one of those students might not be that appealing.

Your Own Tardy Card System

Tardy cards can be effective, especially in secondary schools, if you have the system already in place when the school year begins and you strictly enforce it. The system is similar to the school-wide system already explained. You determine how many times you feel it is acceptable for students to be late to your class — two or three is a good number. Then you give each student a card, which you sign if the student is late.

An important component of the tardy card is the associated discipline plan. This lets students know what punishments they will receive if they forget or use up their cards. When that occurs, it is your job to follow through and enforce your plan. Therefore, make sure that your plan is something you are willing to do.

Giving On-Time Quizzes

One method that some teachers use in conjunction with other systems is to give periodic on-time quizzes. These unannounced quizzes take place as soon as the bell rings. They are very short and cover review material from the day before. Students who are tardy are not allowed to take the quizzes and therefore receive zeros. Check with your administration to make sure this is allowed. Alternatively, you could give extra credit for completing the quizzes.

Whenever you institute a system for dealing with routine occurrences, make sure that it is manageable. If you cannot carry it out in less than a minute or two, you probably need to rework it so it takes up less of your time.

When It's Not the Student's Fault

Elementary school teachers sometimes face a difficult situation when a student is frequently tardy or absent because of her parents. It can be very hard to blame a child for an issue that is really her parent's fault. If parents fail to send their children to school, the legal system can become involved. On the other hand, for daily tardies there is no real method to force compliance. Notes home and phone calls to parents sometimes help.

However, depending on the situation, realize that you might be waging a losing battle. If you find this is the case, talk to your administration about the best way to handle the situation for your classroom and for the child involved.

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