I might soon teach at a university which requires that I record attendance of students, as follows:

Attendance is a requirement for the course. A person with at least 75% of attendance is eligible to take final exams. A person with an attendance between 65% and 75% is required to submit a medical certificate. A person with less than 65% of attendance is not allowed to write the exam and has to do recourse.

The university has no explicit rules on how attendance should be recorded. I can take attendance at any time (though the start of class is recommended). Hence, I am looking for best practices about how to handle latecomers.

I studied many courses, and the behaviour of faculty in this particular aspect varies from one another. The following are the behaviours of faculties I observed mostly:

  1. Allowing the latecomer into the class at any time and giving attendance to the latecomer.

  2. Allowing the latecomer into the class at any time, asking a reason for being late, and then giving attendance to the latecomer.

  3. Allowing the latecomer into the class, but giving attendance based on the reason the latecomer gives for being late.

  4. Disallowing the latecomer by closing doors or with strict instruction.

So, I came to the impression that it totally depends on the particular faculty. Mostly I observed 1, 2 and 4. I observed 3 very rarely.

What is the recommended and proper behaviour towards latecomers?

  • 2
    I moved all comments to chat because I either considered them addressed by edits and similar, answers as comments, or discussing general attendance policies unrelated to the question. Please post new comments only if you expect them to improve the question. Also see this FAQ.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Nov 20, 2018 at 11:55

23 Answers 23


This is an answer to a previous version of the question, where it was not clear that recording attendance was mandatory at the asker’s university. Therefore my answer does not cover the specific situation of the OP, but may still help others in a similar situation.

0) Allow all students in class and do not monitor attendance.

They are adults and they come to learn. As long as they do not disrupt the class they are free to come and go as they please. I do not see which purpose the monitoring of attendance serves. It sends the wrong signal and focuses students on signing the register sheet rather than on the objective of the class.

I do, however, start each class by thanking students who attend and come in time. Latecomers will miss this part.

  • 1
    I removed all comments about interpreting different versions of the question and keeping this answer in light of recent edits to chat. I’ll leave this answer standing with a disclaimer now. If you disagree with this or want some general policy, please take it to Academia Meta. Please only post further comments if they can improve this this answer. Please also see this FAQ.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Nov 20, 2018 at 12:07
  • 5
    In my classes, some students are adults who come to learn, others are clearly not. Nov 24, 2018 at 20:29

I'll try to provide an answer in light of the fact that many answers here will come from professors who do not realize how common it is for some college institutions to have mandatory attendance-taking policies. First, I'll quote from the help page on the Blackboard Attendance feature, as it explains the different use-cases that made that feature necessary:

Many instructors who teach face-to-face and blended courses use attendance data as part of their students' overall grades. Also, some institutions and programs have attendance policies that require instructors to track the number of class meetings students have missed.

Instructors and institutions also use attendance data in these ways:

  • International students who must maintain visas may need to meet attendance requirements.
  • Institutions may need to prove “seat time” for federal funding or accreditation.
  • Many institutions and instructors use attendance as they focus on student retention.

Now, the OP's question is this:

What is the recommended and proper behavior towards late comers?

My answer would be: Whatever is least disruptive and takes the least time away from focus on the academic subject matter.

As you can see from other answers, many professors are actually aghast at the idea of taking time to track attendance for adult college students -- and reasonably so. However, I understand that the OP is at an institution where attendance-taking is mandatory (possibly via a policy by the academic department, college administration, funding agency, or state government, as above).

Most professors will, I think, agree that attendance-taking is a distraction and painful loss of time from focus on the academic subject matter that we are there to share. So -- granted your institutional parameters -- I recommend that you should minimize such loss of time as much as possible. Some suggested options:

  1. If it is in your power to waive attendance-taking, then do so.

  2. If you must take some kind of attendance records, consider exactly what you can use for the definition of "attendance" in your course. Perhaps attendance (course participation) is adjudicated by the most recent work submission, or weekly activity in an online discussion board. (Note that such work products are considered sufficient proof of attendance under U.S. Federal Law Title IV, section 34-CFR-668.22-L-7; search for "academic attendance". This language is likewise used verbatim as the official definition of attendance at my institution, for example.)

  3. If you must take actual attendance in-class, then find the protocol that you spend the least amount of time adjudicating (incl. time on excuses/arguments/challenges, etc.). Perhaps this is easiest via a sign-in sheet, simultaneous with a practice exercise, or at the end of class.

  4. Possibly there is a software solution which is convenient for you to use, such as the feature built into Blackboard, or a similar LMS in use at your institution.

Regarding the specific issue of latecomers, note that options 1-4 above are progressively less generous towards latecomers. If your institution makes it inescapable that you absolutely must spend time personally recording individual attendance every day, then I would do so at a single time that is convenient for you, and not cycle back afterward to deal with latecomers at all, so as to make the most efficient use of your time.

  • 2
    @JeffE Assigned seats and a seating chart make it fairly fast, just mark off the empty seats, or it could be done electronically with classes that use "clicker" response systems during lectures (cue students giving their clicker to their friends to be marked present). It's all still more time consuming than not taking attendance at all. Nov 18, 2018 at 19:06
  • 3
    @JeffE I know classes where there is a small (tiny) grade bonus for being in class. TAs hand out lists of every student supposed to be attending at the beginning of class and this list is passed around and signed. Sure that's not "secure" in any sense of the word. But I (student's perspective) think it probably works ok. There are harsh disciplinary measures for any kind of cheating and most students wouldn't anyway. (other than that I'm happy to be at a university which doesn't allow instructors to really enforce attendance)
    – Nobody
    Nov 18, 2018 at 22:04
  • 3
    @JeffE I have heard horror stories where the institution audits the attendance records and follows up on irregularities (such as picture perfect attendance) by questioning the faculty member and the TAs(!) of the course. The reason for the frankly ridiculous audit was supposedly to prepare for an audit by the government, which should be no surprise at all. Amazing what magnifying effect a few layers of bureaucracy can have, isn't it.
    – Solveit
    Nov 19, 2018 at 9:06
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    Noone seems to have yet brought up that the reason this is required. The reasoning is related to financial aid fraud. It seems that students are taking out loans and then never attending courses (and failing the course, usually). The federal government believes this behavior is detrimental to both the government and the student (going into debt without getting any educational credits in the end). When a school has a lot of cases of this, the school can get sanctioned and can lose some of its aid. It is paternalistic, but the government also has an interest in spending its money well.
    – Dawn
    Nov 19, 2018 at 14:13
  • 4
    To clarify, it is “fraud” because non-attending students are considered fake students, not because they are bad students. A student who attended and failed is fine.
    – Dawn
    Nov 24, 2018 at 3:23

In this case, attendance is a requirement mandated from above. You could ask for clarification from the powers that be who set the rule. For example, you could ask ... Is attendance to be recorded at the start, middle, or end of class? In other words, you could push the decision process back up the chain from where it came.

This approach is likely best done only when you have lots of free time, you have a thick skin, and you just want to annoy your superiors.

The inference is that you have the freedom to define your approach to how you record attendance. Dissecting each of your options, I might see them this way ...

1) You record attendance at the end of class

2) You record attendance at the start or end of class AND either do not ask the latecomers for excuses or ask the latecomers for excuses that you then ignore anyway

3) You record attendance at the start or end of class AND ask the latecomers for excuses AND try to parse the excuses based on a matrix that relies on other potentially unclear and arbitrary rules AND use an on-the-spot decision from that ruling to erase attendance

4) You record attendance at the start of class AND shut out latecomers from even entering the class which only serves to annoy the "honest latecomers", stoke your ego, and count attendance twice because the latecomers may also be shut out of the final exam

I hope that, with this analysis, you see the excess overhead and futility of using options 2-4.

Let's presume that you do not have the option to IGNORE taking attendance. Perhaps for example you are mandated to make a report that proves that you did record attendance in some manner. In this case, I suggest, with the freedom that you have to define attendance, you have perhaps two different approaches.

Attendance Means You Were Here for a Certain Portion of the Lecture

Record attendance at a certain point in time near start of class or near the end of the class and then be done with it. Latecomers should be allowed a certain grace, for example perhaps either to the middle of class. After that grace, they can show up but they will be recorded as having been absent. In addition, if students leave after you take attendance, they will still be recorded as having been present. Attendance then becomes a consistent message, both in what it means and in when it is recorded. You don't bother yourself with policing attendance on-the-spot, either by parsing excuses, by shutting out latecomers, or by glaring at early-leavers.

When you would do as above, figure out how you will handle students who ARE late yet will try to say "I was there by the time the attendance was recorded and you missed me." On the other side, you will have to accept that you allow students to leave with no penalty after attendance is taken. The clicker system that is oft-used in US classrooms can be a great resource for taking attendance ... With due diligence, it should not be easily cheated. Other methods have their pros and cons.

In the end, whatever you decide to handle such cases, keep it simple and consistent.

Attendance Means You Were Here at the Time the Lecture Started or by the Time the Lecture Ended (PERIOD)

Record attendance either at the start or at the end of he lecture and be done with it. The message again is consistent ... be here at the start or be here at the end.


When the rule is only that you take attendance, whatever you do, keep it simple and be consistent. Avoid trying to close every loophole with yet more regulations and oversight.

  • 2
    Overall, I like this approach, but I'm a bit unclear on whether the grace period you mention means that folks arriving then will be counted as in-attendance, or just that the door won't be locked against them. (Also, clicker attendance absolutely can be cheated; this came up recently when my institution tried to use them to count votes in faculty meetings, and a CS professor hacked the "trial" vote.)
    – 1006a
    Nov 17, 2018 at 18:37
  • 3
    It’s pretty easy. I have seen students come to class with eight clickers.
    – JeffE
    Nov 18, 2018 at 15:09
  • 1
    Interestingly, "whence" already includes "from" merriam-webster.com/dictionary/whence Nov 19, 2018 at 16:58
  • 1
    You missed the option: "Record attendance at the beginning of the class, and note latecomers as late without recording any reasons whatsoever." Lateness has become bizarrely normalized in Academia, but that's no reason to exclude this option from your list (which already includes choices characterized as futile).
    – Wildcard
    Nov 20, 2018 at 0:04
  • it is also worth mentioning that it is quite common for students to have to leave early or midway through the class, for an interview, for a quick lunch before the next lesson etc. Recording the attendance at the end of the class would mark these students as not-attended even though they might be around for >half of the lecture/lesson
    – Troy
    Nov 20, 2018 at 20:08

At university level students are adults. It is their choice, their life, their responsibility.

If they decide to come late and miss things this is their choice and their personal consequences. It is not the responsibility of a teacher at university level (Bachelors, Masters of Doctoral) to discipline them as schoolchildren or parents.

The only proviso is that they must not interfere with the learning opportunities of other students in the class by being disruptive. If they arrive late, they should do so discretely and give appropriate apologies if convenient.

I know many students who have family commitments (such as children's doctors appointments) or travel long distances to class and suffer the vagaries of the public transport system. It would be quite unfair and prejudicial to single them out with negative comments.

You should reflect on your attitude to student learning and teaching, and not those of your class.

  • 4
    The faculty are adults, but will they arrive late? And will they do that often? Faculty tend to be late rarely.... Faculty also have family and commitments...
    – Solar Mike
    Nov 17, 2018 at 9:24
  • 5
    It looks like this is a course with mandatory attendance, so that decision has already been taken above OP's level. Nov 17, 2018 at 9:39
  • 3
    -1 This does not answer the question, which implies that the OP is at a mandatory attendance-taking institution (possibly by administrative or legal requirement). Nov 17, 2018 at 15:43
  • 12
    @SolarMike I really hate the narrative that attendance is a sign of “respect”. It is not. Mandatory attendance is asking for compliance, which is not the same thing.
    – JeffE
    Nov 18, 2018 at 18:04
  • 5
    @JeffE attending on time, or before time is a sign of respect in most situations... Being late is taken as rude in many situations, leading to the phrase often used " He (or she) will be late for their own funeral". Being late to a doctor's appointment may lead to you being charged anyway, being late to your meeting with a bank manager won't help your case. Many of us were taught by our parents that being on time was a virtue.
    – Solar Mike
    Nov 18, 2018 at 18:24

Mandatory attendance institutions are quite common in some parts of the world. I used to study in one.

We used to have a roll call. If you are present while your number is called out, your attendance is marked. If you are not, then it is not. Exceptions were made for some known problems like heavy rain or bus/train strikes, and people were always welcome to sit through a lecture without their attendance being marked if they wanted to. This system is prone to a lot of problems though. For example, politically well connected students were able to bully some professors into marking their attendance (yes, this happens).

The most effective system I heard implemented (not in my institution) was to take it out of the hands of the professors. One institution had some helps (or 'peons", as they are called locally) that they employed. Say a lecture starts at 1:00 pm. The helps used to run around their sections of classes at around 1:10 pm and collect all the attendance sheets. They had later started to up their tech and had fingerprint readers to mark attendance which were powered off remotely 10 minutes into every lecture.

There's (hopefully) no way to make a change after that. This system is less prone to manipulation. Few, if any, had the political clout to challenge a higher up to whom these sheets were submitted. More importantly, it keeps the relationship between the professors and their students healthy.

I will admit that most students never liked the mandatory attendance policy. But there certainly are good reasons for its existence in some countries. Those reasons are outside the scope of this answer.


Most of the answers are very tolerant. Since this is obviously a matter of preference, I always went for 4 (close the doors and nobody comes in after my lecture started).

Missing one class is not the end of the world for them. It will, however, teach them something: that time is valuable and that they must make whatever they can to be on time. Even if it means being there 15 minutes early because of an unfortunate train connection.

Being late of course happens, and the world will usually not be waiting for you. You were late for the plane, it is gone. You were late for a doctor appointment, the next patient jumped in.

This is simply life and being late is often a decision, and sometimes bad luck.

If being late means that they will get sick, die, or miss a once-in-a-life opportunity then laxism is welcome. Otherwise this is just teaching them that the world is what it is, and being on time is an asset.

Today, outside of academia, I start my meetings sharp. If someone is late then I never summarize what happened earlier in the meeting (I do not usually have, technically, the possibility to block them).

One last point to take into account is the commute between courses or meetings: people building timetables think that this is done over teleportation and do not add buffers between classes. They should not work where they work because they are simply incompetent.

I finish the meetings / courses I am in control of a few minutes early but if I stuck with one which finishes sharp and the next one starts sharp as well, I make decisions: to leave early or to be late (and possibly miss the meeting). Be nice and if your course is right behind the one of someone who has no understanding that commute time is necessary then you may start yours 5 minutes later (I did this a few times not to penalize the students because of decisions outside their control)

One last edit: I strongly believe that we should treat students as adults and leave attendance to the students. If the rules are different though, they should be enforced (for their own good - and apparently they are not such grown up adults yet)

  • 11
    That may work in some places but many campuses don't allow sufficient time for all students to make it between lectures (especially disabled students). I've taught labs where a large subset of the students were expected to walk from another site in zero time, a walk that took me 10 minutes.
    – Chris H
    Nov 19, 2018 at 10:20
  • 1
    @ChrisH: this is exactly why I mentioned that some people think that teleportation works between meetings/courses and plan the timings around this ridiculous idea (those people are idiots and should be treated as such when there is an opportunity). One should either put pressure so that courses take this into account, or be the reasonable/kind person who will be starting the class a bit later (clearly announcing it, and that after the initial 5 minutes the class is closed). This also means not starting on tile as one cannot penalized the ones who are on time (within the 5 minutes).
    – WoJ
    Nov 19, 2018 at 13:52
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    College students who've paid for the class shouldn't be locked out of it even if you're going to mark them as absent. Your syllabus probably wasn't readily available when they paid for the class, after all. This could potentially open the college up to a lawsuit. Second, unless the name of the class is, "how to be a douche by example" this type of behavior is really uncalled for. You aren't there to teach them this sort of life lesson. If you want to mark them down as not attending that is one thing but to bar access to the class or otherwise demean or sabotage the student is just being cruel.
    – krowe2
    Nov 19, 2018 at 20:33
  • 3
    The plane has to leave on time, or the 250 people who paid for their ticket will not get what they paid for, and the 50 or so people whose job it is to make the plane go (pilots, gate agents, baggage handlers, air traffic controllers, ticket agents at transfer airports) will get extra work to adjust, all of which is incredibly expensive. I’m not so sure you have to close the classroom door.
    – JeffE
    Nov 20, 2018 at 11:43
  • 4
    @WoJ Fine. But be honest (esp. with your students) about the policy being your decision. Your examples suggest that you think locking out late students is just how life works, or that being locked out is entirely their choice. It is not; it’s just how your classroom works; locking them out is also your choice. See also: Cool And A Power Move.
    – JeffE
    Nov 20, 2018 at 12:23

I taught at the university level for years and disagree with most of the above. Yes, students are "adults" but the ones traipsing in 5 or 10 mins late rarely are acting like them. They disrupt the class, and more importantly miss important notes or announcements, requiring YOU to consistently do extra work. If they are adults, they can decide whether to come to class or skip it, but if they come, they shouldn't be arriving after the door closes (give a couple minutes' grace period) and they shouldn't be asking YOU to handhold them the entire semester while they figure out to set their alarm clock.

And since taking attendance is a requirement as noted by the OP's edit, his or her implementing of this will be evaluated and possibly become a part of the decision to rehire. So being lax about this or deciding to secretly not do it seems unwise.

Anyone who's fine letting kids come in late doesn't understand how distracting to the REAL adults (instructor and kids who got there on time!!!) that policy is. And while you can certainly make an exception for the good student who has a flat tire that one day, being the prof who everyone knows will let you arrive any time will be a Pandora's Box that once opened, will be hard to close.

Whatever policy you choose, make sure it's clearly in the syllabus and that you stick to it. But think about the students who CARE about your class, getting there on time, eager to learn, who have to put up with you admitting and addressing a stream of stragglers who arrive whenever they feel like it each time.

  • Those who are fine letting students in late, then going through the already covered material as a "small private" lesson while the others wait are pandering to those so-called "adults" who have yet to mature and arrive late "because it is their right"...
    – Solar Mike
    Nov 20, 2018 at 11:48
  • In my.impression, most latecomers take seats where they don't disturb the classroom. Then nobody has a problem with them being late.
    – user111388
    Apr 16, 2020 at 18:29

Announce to the students that because of the requirement of the institution you have to track their time of coming, and create a journal where each latecomer writes down his name and time of coming. So the student tracks his own progress and you can simply verify that the time written is correct. After that calculate the exact percentage of a students presence, as required by the university.

In my mind punishing latecomers is a faulty practice, but for some reason your institution requires that. I assume that the reason behind this is to make students more responsible. By using the method described above you actually do your best:

  1. Get the absolutely correct individual percentages of attendance.
  2. Make students as much responsible for this as you ever could, because they will fixate and confirm the fact of their latecoming by their own hands.
  3. At any given moment any given student is perfectly aware of his status and can project and manage his time and plan for himself/herself. You give them freedom and help (as much as possible while respecting the rules).
  4. You avoid taking on the moral role you are not inclined to.
  • 1
    This is totally what I was thinking of. However, the drawback might be the noise/interruption during signing the list (maybe the teacher even has to check the ID because they don't know all students personally). Furthermore, to be fair, students that leave early for whatever reason would also need to sign that list...
    – Arsak
    Nov 20, 2018 at 15:42
  • 2
    @Marzipanherz yeah, well, interruption is inevitable in the OPs situation except for the most radical version when students simply don't even try to come if they're late. Signing the journal on leaving is a thing to do too, but that is a far more seldomly occuring situation. The noise can be minimized by having the journal lay near the entrance and the whole procedure to be done silently. Another option is to assign one of the students on the first desk to be responsible to fill in the journal. Well, the idea is interesting, I wonder how would it play out in the real life... :)
    – noncom
    Nov 21, 2018 at 7:56
  • 1
    Note that this process fails to identify to students who are entirely absent. Nov 22, 2018 at 18:29
  • 1
    The reason is likely financial aid related regulations designed to curb fraud and abuse, not to teach responsibility.
    – Dawn
    Nov 24, 2018 at 3:25
  • @Dawn hmm, that's a different implication, but with a similar effect.. but yeah
    – noncom
    Nov 28, 2018 at 15:12

I do tutorial and practicals but not lectures, so your mileage may vary. My method is to arrive early and leave two sign in sheets near the door, watching what's going on to make it more difficult for students to sign in their friends. About five minutes after I start I remove the sign in sheets, and at the end I draw a line under the current point and allow students to approach me to get their name added - I'll ask them why, and then let them sign in. I personally give them full credit since they at least turned up, but this is certainly modified because I know why we're forced to take attendance.

Why, then? Problem is that a fair number of so-called "students" enter the country on student visas, turn up to the first week, and then are never seen from again. By the time the government is notified they have failed their course nine months later, they've effectively removed all trace of themselves and no-one can find them. As a result my institution has to report regularly through the year to immigration the attendance record of holders of student visas, so immigration can attempt to find them before they've managed to vanish.

This behaviour isn't victimless - we have a maximum number of students we can teach with the resources we have, and because international students pay more they often get priority over local students in courses we have quotas on.

I find it heart-breaking when a local student not doing as well as they should in course B says they're having motivation issues because they really wanted to be in course A but didn't make quota, when you know how many people in course A on student visas haven't turned up since that first week.

Clearly my approach is modified by why I'm forced to take attendance. Personally I believe is someone is nailing their course and far ahead of everyone else, it doesn't matter so much if they skip the odd class.


As the university has no explicit rules on how attendance should be recorded, I am asking about this... I came to the impression that it totally depends on the particular faculty.

What is the recommended and proper behavior towards latecomers?

There isn't one

By omitting this from the policy they intend to leave it up to you.

As evidence, you've noted four different ways that you've seen it done. The only option you don't have is skipping the attendance taking.

If you want to be strict, call out the names in the beginning. Set the policy that latecomers have to come to you after class if they want credit. This has the benefit of encouraging them to be on time (minimizing class disruptions). You can answer all questions before addressing attendance as an additional incentive.

If you want to be quick, assign seating and check attendance quickly by noticing which seats are empty. See above about latecomers. If the class size is above 75 this probably your best option.

If you want to be loose, at some point during the class estimate the number of students in the class - if it looks like the right number, they are all present. Mark students that are absent instead of ones that are present. Maybe you shouldn't do this because it is skipping attendance taking... which they're clear that you have to do. But if you forget to do this some classes, then I guess they are all present, right?

Again, my point is that they left it out of the policy because they either didn't want to put it in there or they don't care how you do it.

As to whether late students get credit, this is also unclear so you could count 'show up', require they be on time, or require that they be there half the time. Your choice.

Don't ask anyone about it.

IF you ask THEN you put them in the awkward position of having to answer you when they don't want to.

Personally, I'd say attendance is irrelevant because if your tests cover the material and they pass the test, then they pass - because they know the material. But that isn't the policy, the policy considers attendance. Take attendance in some way (because you have to) and spend your time and energy teaching those that show up.

  • 1
    Yes. Indeed, for all we know, the general policy was created for some CYA purpose, and no one actually cares beyond that. The lack of procedural prescription is some indication of a possible lack of genuine interest beyond that. Nov 20, 2018 at 23:01
  • ... and, yes, "CYA" in polite language means "officially announcing a policy, almost entirely so that one can claim that the policy is official, avoiding trouble/responsibility of some sort... as opposed to necessarily genuinely caring". In U.S. academe, in my observation, much official policy is of this sort. At best, no one really cares. At worst, it can be "unfunded mandate", in the sense that we are commanded to do something but not given the resources to do it, etc. Nov 20, 2018 at 23:04
  • Actually, "unfunded mandate" is not the worst. It is possible (to my dismay, upon recent observation) to have official policies that are "safe" from a legal viewpoint, coherent, and maybe sound good, but in fact are destructive... Luckily, attendance taking probably does not verge on genuinely nasty stuff. Nov 20, 2018 at 23:05
  • 2
    @hanugm I like this answer, particularly, the "Don't ask anyone about it." part. I refrain from answering this question because I don't want to advise someone to knowingly violate the policy even I think the policy is wrong. This answer gives you all kinds of options to choose from. So, it's up to you to pick one.
    – Nobody
    Nov 21, 2018 at 7:48

While my preferred method is to just leave attendance up to the student entirely, recognizing that "things happen" and "people can learn differently", for the situation in which you must take attendance, you want a method that is painless and flexible.

One way is to require that students give you an index card with their name and date for each class. You can do this for the latecomers only, or actually for everyone. When they come in, they hand you a card. This assumes, of course, a suitable scale. I wouldn't require a card for everyone for 100 students, but for 30 it is fine.

If you want/need to make judgements about excuses, then latecomers can write their reason for lateness on the card.

In this way you don't need to interrupt the class, just collect the cards for later processing. You can also make notations on the cards as the class proceeds if you want to record in-process events of any kind.

My students typically would have cards as a matter of course for note-taking and other in-class activities, but you can provide the cards yourself.

For an especially small class, say a dozen or so, I would just carry one card for each student while I was teaching. I could easily sort the cards into those present and those not and annotate absences on the card after the class ends.

Of course, you may need to worry about people turning in cards for others, but a count will tell you if that has happened. And, of course, you must deal with "early leavers" with a different method, but if you know the name-face correspondences it isn't too hard to handle.


Students are adults. It is their life and their choice. In some countries they pay thousands of dollars to be there which means they do care about being there. Maybe they are late because of a doctors appointment, they have to take care of their own children, they have to take care of their parents, they can't afford to live in the same city as the university and have to commute and got stuck in traffic. It is none of your business what their reason might be. Your job is to just teach and not to be their parents and not to teach them about responsibility. If they miss too much of class they will face the consequences on the exams. I will mention to those who commented that the faculty don't have the option to show up late, that the faculty GET PAID and IT IS THEIR JOB to show up and lecture. Being a student is not a job it is a means for getting a better job in the future. This means many of your students are probably working to put themselves through school and you better bet that they show up on time for that.

  • 1
    Sorry, but some students see class as an occupational hazard and turn up late, then expect to disrupt class to get information about what they missed to the cost of those who turn up on time - all down to respect...
    – Solar Mike
    Nov 17, 2018 at 21:09
  • 3
    If that is their expectation, then you need to clamp down on them disrupting the class. Disrupting class is not acceptable. But whether a student comes late or not at all or is asleep as long as they don't snore, why would you care?
    – gnasher729
    Nov 18, 2018 at 16:51
  • I agree in that disrupting class is not acceptable, however you should really find out if they are late because of another reason. Not all students are as lazy and disrespectful as you think they are. Most students are in school because they value education or else why bother with it especially if it is expensive. Even if they view it as "occupational hazard" then they are still paying to attend lectures, be it late anyways, and you shouldn't concern yourself with it unless other student's directly complain.
    – user88517
    Nov 19, 2018 at 5:19

When you are a TA, you have to follow the local rules and will have little power to change them (although you have every right to discuss them with colleagues). The way to do so, and the choice to do so in a more general situation, is an important matter.

Many colleagues, and many answer above dismiss the need to bother with attendance and lateness ("as long as it does not disturb the class"), on the ground that students are adults. I very much disagree with this argument. Since this is not a popular opinion, I feel the need to give some context and justification.

First, recall that there are many many situations where rules are made for people own good, even adults - mandatory belts in cars, for example (as in France, I do not know the law in other countries). When first enforced, this kind of rule tend to be rejected as treating people as children; after a time, they often get adopted and become obvious. Did people get more adult in the meantime? No, but our behavior, and what we consider proper behavior, is shaped by what others do and what rules (explicit or implicit, legal or traditional) are in force.

Second, recall that this applies to us academics, however grown up we are. Do you think that the attitude of staff when you turn your paperwork for your next conference late past the deadline has no bearing on your behavior next time? If administrative staff simply treats this as if it where normal, don't you think you would probably miss the deadline quite often? On the contrary, if they (respectfully) mention how much more difficult it makes their job, wouldn't you be more careful? Do you think it is necessarily treating faculty as children to have rules and deadlines for paperwork? Or can you see it is (in good cases) about all of us to interact smoothly and work efficiently? We all act according to a large set of rules, and good rules are those that have a good incentive/heaviness ratio. The most permissive rules are not necessarily optimal.

Similarly, students attitude toward "going into class" will be shaped by what they see other student do, and how teachers react to what they do. Simply ignoring late students, or student that only show up every other class, will send a very clear message: that it is okay to do so. In most cases, this message is actually detrimental to their study.

Teachers should not ignore that the way they react sends a message, and they should thus choose how to react in a way that sends a message they believe is accurate and supports our goal: to have student learn. Since I believe the correct message is that showing up in class on time is an important part of studying, I try to adopt rules consistent with this message (one can feel differently about importance of showing up in class on time, but beware that a small proportion of student that can dispense from it should not hide a vast majority that cannot afford this).

The precise rule I adopt has changed over time. Lately, I have settled for the following: whenever a student shows up more than (literally) 1-2 minutes late, I ask her or him to wait outside; I finish what I was saying and let a little something to think about to the class; I go see the late student, and ask why he or she is late; I always let her or him get in, but make sure to mention being late is not a good thing; then I carry on with the course. This has I think a good balance, even in amphitheaters (first lectures I usually get a dozen late student at a time, then they mostly show up on time - or not at all).

  • 1
    It may well be that arriving late is detrimental to one’s study, but instructors are not in charge of the properly “raising” students, only in charge of their academic education. Unlike seatbelts or driving drunk or other instances where there are costs to society when one ignores the law, the only persons that can be harmed in arriving late is the person himself/herself and anyone wishing to emulate this inappropriate behaviour. Agreed it would be harmful for an instructor to be consistently late and thus give a bad example, but students be able to do what is best for them. Nov 24, 2018 at 22:57
  • @ZeroTheHero: 1. I do not think it yours to tell that instructor are not in charge of raising students. My job is to instruct and to help student succeed, including helping them become gradually more autonomous. 2. Expecting student to be on time is similar to expecting them to be able to do well on tests: it is part of my respect for them. Noticing explicitly when they are late shows I care about it, while not bothering would give, I think, the impression that I don't. 3. Not putting one's seatbelt hardly can cause harm to anyone outside the trespasser, so I do not see the difference. Nov 25, 2018 at 13:13

Use a sheet of paper where the students mark their attendance. That way, you are doing your job to record the attendance and have a proof about it, while still giving the students some leeway at what time they appear at class. It also makes it possible for the occasional friend to help another classmate with marking their attendance without really allowing it, if that's what you desire.


But, I need to clear this doubt for myself, when I need to start and teach a class as TA or in some other position.

So is this a hypothetical question? As in, you're not actually a TA yet?

Note: Attendance is a requirement for the course. A person with above 75% of attendance is eligible to take final exams. A person with a percentage of attendance between 65 and 75 is required to submit a medical certificate. A person with less than 65% of attendance is not allowed to write the exam and has to do recourse.

In my experience as a student in the US, TAs were Teaching Assistants--they were responsible for running science labs, discussion groups, and tutoring sessions for a specific professor. The quote above makes it sound like you'd be in a similar situation. So ask your supervising professor how they want you to handle it, or ask your fellow TAs what that professor prefers.

If it's up to you, find a method for taking attendance that works for you. Assigned seats, roll call, exit tickets, retinal scanners, whatever. The last university I taught at actually implemented a custom Bluetooth-based attendance app that we were all supposed to use. Any student more than 15 meters away or not logged in at the same time as the instructors was counted absent and actually lost points. I've also seen QR codes posted by the doors that linked to Google forms.

If you're responsible for making the quizzes and exams, warn your students that a certain percentage of the questions (like 10%, nothing too high) will come purely from lecture and won't explicitly be in the textbook/posted notes. Or give some sort of incentive for perfect attendance. One school I've taught at had a limit on how many A's and B's I could award--I often awarded the higher grade to the student with the better attendance because they put forth more of an effort.

How do you feel about your fellow students when they arrive late? How do you feel about the current policies you've experienced? What seems least disruptive/most fair to you? When you start TA-ing, your feelings may change. As an instructor, my annoyance reflects the disruption the latecomer causes. I really don't care most of the time. But if I have to wait for them to catch up, or if they ask questions/interrupt me to discuss something we covered before they arrived, then I get annoyed.


Ask the one whose signature is at the end of the document. They made the rule, whatever it is, and they are responsible for it. The moral dilemmas are on their heads. If you have doubts, ask them because they are entitled to demand the rules and change the rules. Each and every strategy has their pros and cons and it was considered and decided.

After the discussion, stick to the rules you both agreed on as firm as possible. Describe the rules to the students and you can tell them you are not the author and uncover them the consequences.


Follow your instructions to the letter.

Attendance is binary. They either attended or did not attend. If they turn up to your class and the class has a non-zero length of time left, then they attended.

Lateness is neither here nor there. You've been asked to record attendance, not lateness.

Useless anecdote:

In the 1990s, my school was one of the first in the country (UK) to record attendance electronically. Unfortunately, attendance was recorded in the first few minutes, and any late arrival was recorded as being absent for the entire half-day period.

I didn't agree with this policy.

Therefore, in the 1990s, I became one of the first in the country to hack their electronic attendance records.


Treat attendance and lateness separately. When I was a TA in graduate school, part of the students' grade was a participation grade, and this grade was given somewhat subjectively. In my class it was related to several factors, including lateness. Every day they would get some amount of participation credit, out of 10, say. The amount I would deduct from their total ten points of participation was proportional to how late they showed up. They could redeem themselves by participating in other ways. This made it so that showing up late was basically a handicap worth avoiding.

Attendance, on the other hand, is binary. If they don't show up, they should get no points for attendance that day. In my days as a TA, there weren't points related to attendance though, that's just how I would treat it if I were you.


I solved a similar issue in a different way when I was a graduate TA, though of course it was a number of years ago.

I had been reading about the benefits of quizzes to help reinforce previously learned material (I think it was from the high school teacher and Calculus, but time and memory...). So, at the start of each class I had a < 5 minute quiz that asked about topics from the previous week. As a side-effect (though there was some time dilation; we didn't have such nice things as in-class electronic scoring), I was able to find areas where I didn't communicate a topic effectively. I could then -- prior to a mid-term or final exam -- circle back to topics where a majority of the class had issues to try to address this gap between what I had intended to communicate and what the class actually perceived.

I tied 15% of the final grade to these quizzes (with adjustment when it was clear I had failed in some fashion, but it was essentially 1%/week), so failing to show-up to take the quiz would have an adverse outcome for the student's final grade. But I also had an "attendance" record, and those who arrived late were, in effect, excluded from the count.

Now, I am of the belief that Oscar Wilde was wrong -- timeliness is an important aspect of society; one simply cannot go through life being forever tardy to meetings in the professional world. Ergo, tardiness was equivalent to missing a part of the class, and would have been marked absent (and the grade would have also been adversely affected).

I agree that taking attendance per se is kind of obnoxious, but if I fail to make a meeting with a client (or am late), there are repercussions for that action. I do not see a reason that a penalty applied to the late student should be different.


Personally, I have used two strategies when taking attendance.

  1. Taking attendance at a random point in the class. Usually at least 15 minutes into the class. Try to do it in a natural stopping point between topics. If this is a small enough class, call out all names and mark the attendance then. If someone was not present during this time, they will be marked absent. I find that a random point works better since if you made it fixed (say, 10 minutes after class starts), this will encourage more students to be a few minutes late.

  2. Passing a sign-in sheet between the students. This will be less disruptive to the flow of the class (since you won't have to pause to take attendance). The latecomer may not look for the sheet when they come in late. They will have to wait till the end of the class to add their name. This method is prone to student manipulation since someone may mark their friend as attending even when they are absent.


Mark them as being present, for fire evacuation purposes.

None of the other answers I can see mention one good reason to take attendance: to produce a list of people present, so that in the event of a fire evacuation, it allows the university officials responsible for managing the evacuation to produce a list of missing individuals by comparing the attendance list with the list of people present at the fire evacuation site. That way, the fire fighters can know if they need to look for anyone in danger, and possibly where they would need to look for them.

As a result, if a student were to arrive late, but not be marked as present, it's possible that they might be lost if a fire evacuation were to take place, in which case it's possible that the university might be liable for an injuries they suffered as a result of the university's failure to do due diligence.


If you are a competent teacher, don't worry about recording the attendance (students dont want to miss your classess). If you get fired for violating the policy, there are plenty of jobs for competent people.

If you are not a competent teacher, go ahead and record attendance, block late comers, etc. This the way for you to keep your job inspite of being incompetent.

Whatever you do, remember that the money you are eating is coming from the fee paid by the students!

  • 1
    @scaaahu : I did not know its for a TA. My advice is for a full time Lecturer. I don't know whats this TA business. I have not seen any such thing in my college.
    – Rajesh D
    Nov 24, 2018 at 3:24
  • The very original version of this question indicates that the OP is a TA. when I need to start and teach a class as TA or in some other position. Since you now know it, I'll delete my previous comment.
    – Nobody
    Nov 24, 2018 at 3:27

This is up to you to decide. You are the teacher. Follow your compass.

  • Well. There are rules. Follow them. If you think they are not good, try to change/cancel them.
    – Crowley
    Nov 20, 2018 at 18:42
  • No. Follow your compass. If you are not appreciated, then go to some other place where you will be more appreciated. Nov 20, 2018 at 21:57
  • -1: This is just anarchy. You should clearly change the rules if they're wrong, or learn why they're right if you can't change them.
    – UKMonkey
    Nov 21, 2018 at 11:35
  • @UKMonkey I don't agree. There is a larger risk for anarchy if you provoke a student protest or teachers strike than if you allow some freedom in interpreting and bending the rules if they are strict. Nov 21, 2018 at 12:14
  • Having a few teachers take the students side can be a big moral boost for your uni. Just saying. Nov 25, 2018 at 21:27

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