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Latecomers: Tips for Handling the Disruption of Students Who Come Into Class Late


You’re already five minutes into the lesson and a late student walks in. How do you handle the disruption? Do you stop the class? Do you ignore it? Included: Classroom management expert Howard Seeman offers eight tips for handling latecomers.

Latecomers disrupt the learning of the rest of the class, give negative attention to the latecomer, disrupt the teacher's train of thought, often become disruptive talkers after they sit down, and then ask questions about what you just explained

How can you curtail those problems? Following are eight suggestions for handling latecomers from Professor Howard Seeman. Some of these ideas might work for you.

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Howard Seeman

Professor Howard Seeman, author of Preventing Classroom Discipline Problems: A Classroom Management Handbook, is a former New York City public school teacher and professor of education at Lehman College, City University of New York. A national consultant on classroom management, Seeman has published more than two dozen articles on education, psychology, and philosophy, and has been a keynote speaker at many national education conferences. Seeman also teaches an online course, Preventing Classroom Discipline Problems. Visit his Web site at www.classroom

Additional Articles

If you liked this article, the following Education World articles by Howard Seeman might be of interest:
* Know When to Discipline!
* Cheating in the Classroom: How to Prevent It (and How to Handle It If It Happens)

Don't miss those articles and others in our Classroom Management Center.
  1. Leave one or two empty chairs by the front or back door for latecomers. Students who are late are not to walk in front of the room or to go to their regular seats. They must take one of the "late seats" by the door. This will prevent latecomers from disturbing the class already in progress.
  2. Do not talk to latecomers. Don't accept a late pass or an explanation during class. Ignore them as they come in and motion them to take the "late seat."
  3. At the bell, mark anyone not in his or her seat absent by marking a small a in your attendance book. Make sure students understand your "latecomer policy" from the first day of school: If you come in late -- after I've taken attendance -- you have been marked absent. If you want me to change your "absent" record to a "late," you must see me after class. Then, I'll change your a to an l. If you forget to see me after class, your a remains." That policy shifts the responsibility of being on time to the student, who now has the burden of remembering to remain after class to change their absent record to a "late."
  4. Decide on some system like: three ls equals an a and three as equals 5 points off the class grade. That will motivate students to be on time, and to remain after class to change an their as to ls.
  5. Post a "do-now!" activity on the board or a sheet of chart paper; this is a quick activity that students do each day at the start of the class period. The assignment is always collected 5 minutes after attendance is taken. If a student comes in late and can't complete the "do-now!" activity, he or she doesn't get credit for it. (You might use the collected papers as a means for recording attendance.)
  6. Give tests back at the beginning of the period. Students who arrive late do not get their tests back until the end of the period or at the start of the class period tomorrow.
  7. Sometimes the coordination of an entire school policy on lateness is the best strategy. For instance, one school worked collaboratively to institute a strict policy of locking the classroom doors as soon as the late bell rang. That, coupled with "hall sweeps" of any stragglers, was quite effective. Latecomers were channeled to a detention room where a careful record of lateness was kept. Each infraction carried a consequence:
    • After the first lateness, the student got a warning.
    • After the third lateness in one day, the student's ID card was held until a parent came to school.
    Parents got letters informing them about the plan and enlisting their cooperation. On the first day of the new policy, about 100 kids got "swept." But within a few days, students realized the school meant business. So many students were on time the next week that the city's transit authority called to ask the school if it had changed its morning schedule!