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Dr. Ken Shore's: Classroom Problem Solver

Johnny Come Late -- Again!


Some students are late for school for reasons that are beyond their control. Some students arrive at school after the bell has rung because of choices they've made. Their lateness might be a symptom of anxiety about school, caused by either academic or social concerns. And some student wander in to class a few minutes late because they like the attention their grand entrance receives, especially if it results in a few minutes of one-on-one time with the teacher.


If you have a student who consistently arrives late to school, try to identify the pattern that student is exhibiting. You will want to talk with the student and his parents, of course; you also might check with previous teachers and review past report cards to find out if tardiness was a problem in the past. Also, consider whether the student's lateness is part of a larger pattern of disorganization and difficulty with time management.


Make sure your students understand the importance of arriving on time. Students, especially if they are young, might not realize that they are arriving at school late, or they might not appreciate the importance of being on time. If you suspect that's the case, make sure they understand what time they are expected to be at school and tell them that you expect them to be seated at their desks at that time.

Do not allow a tardy student to disrupt your lesson. Tell students that if they arrive late, they are to enter quietly, take their seat, and try to catch up on what is happening. Give a tardy student minimal attention when he arrives; do not reprimand him for being late. If a student is frequently late, take a few minutes -- without disrupting your lesson -- to find out why and to explain to the student how being tardy can interfere with your instruction and with his learning. Ask the student what he might do differently to be sure he gets to school on time.

Require older students to fill out a late form. Tell them that any student who arrives late is to enter class quietly, pick up a late form, complete it, and return it to your desk. On the form, ask students to indicate the date, their arrival time, and the reason for their tardiness. At the bottom of the form, include the statement, "I will do my best to be on time for class in the future," and have the student sign it. Review the completed form for accuracy; if necessary, meet with the student to talk about his tardiness. As an alternative, you might have tardy students enter the date and time and their signature into a class "late book."

Talk with the parents of a consistently late student. Be sure they know what time students are expected to be in the classroom, and that they understand the academic difficulties faced by their child when he arrives late. You might ask parents about their child's morning routine and suggest some ways the pattern might be changed to get him out of the house earlier. For example, if he is often late because he takes too much time gathering his materials in the morning, suggest he do that the night before.

Provide a consequence for tardiness. You might have a student remain inside during recess or attend after-school detention when he has accumulated a set number of "tardies," but make sure to only count those late arrivals the student had some responsibility for. Impose the consequence in a matter-of-fact manner, without showing signs of anger. At the same time, be sure to acknowledge the student when he is punctual.

Make the beginning of class especially interesting. That may entice the dawdlers to get to school on time. Start class soon after the bell rings with a brief but fun task such as a puzzle, a joke, a brain teaser, a humorous poem, or an educational game. You might even place on students' desks a fun task for them to begin as soon as they enter the classroom. You might even give students a choice of "bell ringers," allowing them to vote on which one they like best.

Give the habitually tardy student a beginning-of-the-day job he likes. For example, you might make him responsible for delivering the attendance count to the office or for collecting his classmates homework.


About Ken Shore

Dr. Kenneth Shore is a psychologist and chair of a child study team for the Hamilton, New Jersey Public Schools. He has written five books, including Special Kids Problem Solver and Elementary Teacher's Discipline Problem Solver.

Click to read a complete bio.