Better late than never

Better late than never


Today I did something horrible: I cancelled my classes.  I really didn’t want to, but my younger son had to be taken to the ER for some stitches.  (He ended up not getting them because, after hemming and hawing a bit, the doctor decided it was looking fine and the stitches would be more traumatic.)

But back to the topic at hand, I hate cancelling classes.  The students are very unforgiving of late and absent professors, something I discovered when I was on a much bigger campus where I regularly showed up about 30 seconds prior to the beginning class.  Apparently punctuality is actually lateness in their eyes.

I remember one of my professors in undergrad who showed up about 7 minutes late for class once.  We were all just getting up to leave when he walked in.  My infantile (and entirely fictional) telempathic abilities picked up a huge, collective sigh of disappointment when he came in the door.  If only we’d left a few minutes earlier!  He saw we were about to leave, and he informed us that, as an associate professor, he was entitled to be a full ten minutes late before students could leave.  According to him, we were also supposed to allot 5 minutes for an assistant professor and 15 for a full professor.

He mentioned nothing about grad students and lecturers, but I’m guessing showing up less than 2 minutes prior to class is sufficient reason to leave.

Most of my professors have been fairly punctual, but a friend once complained that one of her professors was chronically late.  She started keeping track of how late he was in thirty-second intervals.  Then she calculated out how much of her tuition she should get refunded as a result of missed instructional time.  (She transferred out of engineering, which I couldn’t understand given this is exactly the type of thing an engineer would do.)

I find this all amusing because the students, especially those that complain the loudest, are often the ones who will straggle in to class fifteen minutes late.  Then they want you to explain everything you’ve gone over twice already for everyone else.  Still, I prefer they come late rather than not at all…especially if they try to make up for it by scheduling a meeting outside of my regular office hours.

I wonder if these students are the ones who later show up late to meetings at work.  Showing up more than five minutes late for a meeting at work means it’s just better if you don’t come.  Usually this is because you’ll end up spending time reviewing what was already said using a 1-to-1 time ratio.  However, if you don’t show up at all, someone can probably summarize the most important points of the meeting in a five-minute (or less) overview.  This is significantly more efficient and less boring than reviewing in the meeting.

I’m torn, therefore, as to whether I should loudly berate late stragglers on the grounds that they likely will end up becoming the engineers that show up to meetings late and make the rest of us insane or if I should just be happy I don’t have schedule extra office hours.

What do you think?



I don’t berate stragglers, though I do complain if a significant portion of a class is late.

In 29 years of teaching, I’ve been late for class about a dozen times—it is very embarrassing to be late when you are the teacher, as they can’t start without you, usually. I have a poor sense of time, so I consider it quite an accomplishment on my part to have been late so rarely.

The best way to handle late students in a class is to continue as if they had been there all along. Occasionally I will repeat something for a late-comer, but only if I think that the repetition will benefit the rest of the class.

If I’m lecturing, it doesn’t bother me if they walk in late…I just keep going. Most of my class time involves activities, however, and just as I get everyone else set up to go to work, someone walks in and I have to go over it again so that they have a clue. And once they’ve gotten set up, someone else comes in late, etc.

Starting to wonder if I need to implement a policy like Gears’.

There is the famous tradition of the academic 15 minutes. So hypothetically nobody should complain if anybody is less then 15 minutes late.

Practically, what I am used to is:
If a lecturer is late under 5 minutes, or is in the room but has a heated discussion with someone. Then the lecturer apologizes briefly and everybody pretends nothing happed.
If it is between 5-15 minutes, the lecturer usually has a good excuse to bring. But unless it happens regularly nobody minds.
If they are 15 minutes late, students will leave or send someone to the administration, to call the lecturers cellphone. And they will be annoyed, but mainly about the fact that the lecturer didn’t send some kind on message about the lecture being delayed/dropped.

If a student is late, everybody pretends he was there all the time. It is assumed that they now that they are missing some parts, and that they can pass without those.
The only thing that might get repeated for latecommers ( at the end of the lecture) are administrative announcements.

This is for regular lectures, one time things or the first course in the semester would be handled differently.

I actually go with an entirely different method. I do not have a required attendance policy (but you won’t pass the test without coming), but I have an absolutely strict lateness policy. Late students disrupt the flow of class, especially when you’re introducing a topic. Thus, I have a zero tolerance late policy. If you aren’t going to be on time, don’t show up. No one is admitted to the class after it is scheduled to start.

I’m not forcing students to come to class, but they better be there on time.

The ‘you don’t come, you won’t pass’ is the way my classes work as well. In fact, a student sent me an email about 2 hours before the drop deadline asking if he should drop the class because he missed a couple important assignments.

Maybe I need to make a point at the beginning of next year (assuming I’m teaching this course again) that if they miss class, they miss critical assignments and won’t pass. And if they come late, I’m not going to take the time to go over things once I’ve already got the other students started.

I’m reluctant to ban tardy students. I know that as an undergrad, I had a hard time getting my kid to school or daycare and making it to my first class of the day without snags here and there. Kids really do horrible things to your punctuality. (On the other hand, I doubt most of my students have this excuse.)

Huh. Interesting policy. I’d have to disagree with you here. Most of my lectures were anywhere from 1 hour to 2 or sometimes 3 hours if it was summer class. If I was 5 minutes late due to traffic it was often worth my while to show up and catch the remaining 50 minutes of lecture or more. I’d disagree a late student really “disrupts” lecture all that much. I was quiet, I’d sneak in and sit in the first open seat I could get to. Plus as a student who was working time and paying for each class I wanted to get my money’s worth.

On the other hand, I don’t believe in a 5 minute or 15 minute rule. I had one professor who was consistently 5 minutes late to pretty much every class. It didn’t bother me all that much. Once he didn’t show up until 25 minutes in (was a 3 hour lecture though). While the other students loudly debated how long was worth staying, and some left, I figured I’d stay. 2+ hours of lecture that I’d already “paid for” was better than 0 hours. We all have traffic or bad days or crazy things happen to us. I think denying engineering education to someone who might be 5 minutes late once or twice a semester is pretty callous. And pretty hypocritical because one of these days it will be you who is late. But then that’s the power dynamic, professors/lecturers are allowed to be hypocritical in these cases.

There’s a major difference between students being late and professors being late. When a professor is 15 minutes late to a class with 100 students, that’s 1500 minutes of student time being spent waiting for the professor to arrive. But when a student is late or absent for a class, for the most part they’re the ones who pay the penalty for it.

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