Watching the Clock

Reported by Comfort Smith

I hate being late to class. The idea of being the last person to arrive fills me with dread. But to many students, tardiness does not seem like a big deal. Especially in my general education classes, it is not uncommon for students to show up late. Does tardiness bother professors as much as it does me?

I met with several George Fox University (GFU) professors from various departments to discuss their experience with tardy students. What I found made me realize that maybe I was thinking incorrectly about tardiness.

Some professors have structured tardiness policies; others do not. Rebekah Hanson’s syllabus for Music History I says that habitually tardy students in this class will receive a 1% lower grade for the semester. Other syllabi have less structured policies, and some show no policy at all. However, contrary to my expectation, none of the professors I interviewed seemed to regard tardiness as the main issue. Kelly Chang from the psychology department said she prefers that students come to class even if they are a few minutes late.  Gary Tandy, English department chair, expressed a similar perspective.

“What I often say to students when they apologize for coming in late is, ‘I’d rather have you in class to get what benefit you can than not come at all,’” Tandy said.

Of those I interviewed, Brent Weaver, chair of the music department, had the most rigid policy.

“Sometimes when it got really, really bad,” he recalled, “I started actually locking the door at five minutes after the beginning of class. And I only had to do that once or twice and one person showed up and stood outside the door… it was kind of painful for him and me.”

However, even this is not a case of fastidiousness about time, but of a professor wanting students to get the most out of his classes.

“I have a tardy and absence policy partly for my own sanity but also to encourage folks to keep showing up, to stay engaged, and to not fall behind,” Weaver said.

While late students can get on professors’ nerves, tardiness mainly impacts the student who is late. The professors I interviewed seemed primarily concerned about what tardiness means for students’ learning. Many times, students miss valuable information or coursework in the first several minutes of class, several professors indicated. Latecomers are distracting to other students. According to these professors, tardiness policies are in place for the sake of students.

Professors mostly agreed that general education classes and morning classes had the highest tardiness rates at GFU. Chang told me that she avoids teaching classes any earlier than 9 a.m. because it is difficult to keep everyone’s attention that early in the morning, and students do tend to show up later. Dr. Weaver said that his general education classes showed this problem more than upper-division classes, where students are more invested in the material.

However, professors who have taught at other institutions said that tardiness is less prevalent at GFU.

“I haven’t noticed it being a problem in most of my classes,” Tandy said. He mentioned that most of the time, tardiness was more of an individual issue, where the same student showed up late regularly. In those cases, he chose to deal with tardiness by talking with the student individually.

Weaver said that, compared to other colleges where he has taught, “it’s not a big issue here.” This may be partly due to the fact that GFU is a Christian university with high standards of living, and coming to class on time is one standard that is mostly upheld.

Jessica DaughertyComment