Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

How do you deal with perpetually late students?

  1. Nov 12, 2016 #1
    As an adjunct professor, I teach a physics laboratory class on a Saturday morning at a public university. I have taught the class a couple of times and every semester students are perpetually late. There is the occasional student that has had car trouble etc. which is understandable as it is once during the semester, however, most often I have students that are repeatedly late. By late, I mean at times up to one hour (the class is three hours).

    I was wondering if any of you have dealt with this issue? If so, how do you handle it? I have also stressed the importance of showing up on time. I generally make them complete the labs on their own if they are extremely late and have hard cut-off at the end of the third hour, which generally results in a poor score on a lab report. Still, even with these measures, it occurs regularly.

    Any advice or suggestions will be appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 12, 2016 #2

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    Why do you care? You're not their Mommy or daddy. They are adults, and can make their own decisions, and deal with the consequences. If those consequences involve flunking, so be it.
  4. Nov 12, 2016 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    One thing that can help is to have a "pre-lab" assignment. When I used to teach undergrad labs, the students always had to complete about 3 short problems related to the lab - usually deriving the uncertainty relations or setting up a linear relation between dependent and independent variables in the experiment. This had to be handed in first thing. It encouraged students to be on time and read the lab over so that at least the ones who didn't copy off of their friends knew what they were doing.

    That said, I agree with Vanadium. As a university instructor it's not your job to police their tardiness. If it's interrupting the flow of the lab to have students come in late, lock the door once you begin and assign anyone who's not there a goose egg.
  5. Nov 12, 2016 #4

    Stephen Tashi

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    If your motivation is to help such students, you could ask them why they are late - without necessarily implying they are morally degenerate. My guess is that some students are morally degenerate, but others find themselves in unrealistic schedules for a variety of reasons - like trying to get off work at 10 AM from a job and making it to a 10:30 AM class when the boss often expects them stay past 10 AM to finish up some work. You might not be able to do anything about such situations, but it could ease your mind to understand some of them.
  6. Nov 12, 2016 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor

    You're probably being a bit too nice here by allowing them to work on the lab after arriving so late. The lower lab scores are apparently not costly enough to encourage your students to show up on time. Some of my colleagues have a policy that excessive tardiness is equivalent to an absence and that students won't be allowed to do the lab if they're late. You can explain to the class that it's disruptive to the learning environment and it's a waste of their time (they don't learn what they're supposed to) and your time (you have to grade their incomplete and shoddy work) when someone shows up to class that late.

    You might feel reluctant to cut people off like that. After all, you're there to help them learn, so you want to give them the chance even if they're really late. But one thing I discovered early on is that some students simply don't care to make the required effort. It's just a lesson in frustration in trying to get them to do what you ask, like show up to class on time. My feeling now is I'm not going to make extra effort to help a student succeed if that student doesn't care enough to make the effort to at least try to meet the requirements of the course. Also, remember it goes both ways. The students expect you to show up on time, and they'd certainly be irritated, justifiably, if you decided to arrive 20 or 30 minutes late for every class. It's not unreasonable for you to expect them to show up on time and to feel annoyed when they don't.

    Stephen's suggestion to ask the students why they're late is really good. It may turn out you learn that they are really trying to get to class on time but can't for whatever reason. You might cut them some slack. On the other hand, if you find out someone is chronically late because they party too much and oversleep, you won't feel so bad about giving them a zero.
  7. Nov 12, 2016 #6
    All good advice. Thanks everyone.
  8. Nov 12, 2016 #7
    I am new to teaching and am surprised by this behavior.
  9. Nov 12, 2016 #8


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    I'm perpetually late by a minute or two to my first class in the mornings. I just have a very difficult time getting out of the door in time to get to class on time.
  10. Nov 13, 2016 #9


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    We've all known for a long time that you are usually a day late and a dollar short. :smile:
  11. Nov 13, 2016 #10


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Please! I'm only 50 cents short... give me some credit!
  12. Nov 18, 2016 #11
    Many students get a rude awakening concerning the value of promptness when they get their first job. Most employers are not quite so understanding concerning lateness or absence. I know this comment might generate objections, but even professions, while not punching time clocks, have their time structured in their offices or in the field. Lawyers cannot bill for hours not worked without repercussions. Doctors time is highly structured, (try missing appointments without paying for it). In my job, I am required to take continuing education, sometimes in coursework far removed from my academic career. My employer must certify that I completed the classes and attendance is mandatory. Try getting certified in piloting aircraft, without the proper number of flight hours.

    When I taught lab, pre-labs and pre-tests usually provided motivation to be on time. I have to admit tardiness has always been a problem.
    I do think many years ago, when the opportunity to complete college was rare, and many students were the first in their family to attend, students were more powerfully motivated to accord their instructors proper respect.

    Usually freshman are eager to please and seldom miss classes in the beginning. Then it sets in they can sometimes take liberties with cutting classes as their academic career progresses.

    I was told by more seasoned instructors, not to take it personal when students skip. One time every student in class skipped. It was an anti-war protest. I did not say anything more about it. I expected the students did the lab with another instructor (there were several), and had them grade it.
  13. Nov 18, 2016 #12
    I'd put it in the syllabus that a certain attendance is required, and attendance is taken in the first five minutes.

    Late = absent. So many absences = fail. If the admins undermine you, it won't work.
  14. Nov 18, 2016 #13

    Andy Resnick

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    What is the department/college/university policy? If you haven't spelled out a policy in the syllabus, there's not much you can do now.
  15. Aug 27, 2017 #14
    Everyone in this thread made me feel guilty for coming in class half an hour late only one time because I forget to set my alarm clock.
  16. Aug 28, 2017 #15
    These two suggestions are what I used to do at NYU w/ my adult students. I also used to require students let me know ahead of time if they knew they were going to have to be late or miss a class for work reasons. (These were evening classes, and most of my students worked.)

    I want to add that Dr. Courtney's suggestion is important for another reason: Whatever the departmental/school regulations for student attendance are, you'd want to know them in any case, and make sure you're in sync w/ them; these regs are part of the contract that students have made. Most schools will have regs for attendance; the extra step of defining what constitutes attendance for your class offers clarity & is a good thing to do in a syllabus regardless.

    An anecdote: During a semester in 2008, I had one student who had potential if only he applied himself; but halfway through the course he started arriving late and even missing classes. I asked what was going on, and it turned out he was in the public relations department for CitiBank; this was during the big banking crisis, and his bosses were making him stay late. It was not his fault, but he wound up missing too many classes & per the school's attendance requirements, I had to flunk him; he was upset but at least there was something I could point to that he could understand.
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2017
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted