I teach a class that starts at 8:30 AM. Some students come late almost every day, usually 5 to 10 minutes late. In the past, I tried punishing late students by making them sing a song or blocking the door with a desk. But those methods did not work well.

How do you handle students who are regularly late to class? I am thinking of giving a quick quiz at the start using an online poll tool. Students who are on time would get bonus points, but late students would miss out.


Just to clarify. I have asked late student to sing only once and I had blocked the door also just once. The way I did it is obvious intended as a joke. The student who sung (Happy Birthday) found it quite funny afterwards. Blocking the door poses no safety risk at all. It is very easy to bypass.

But from your reactions I do realize the pettiness of my behaviour and feel ashamed. I shall refrain from using any sort of penalties to enforce punctuality.

I will leave the post here as a cautionary tale for anyone who has similar thoughts.

  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Academia Meta, or in Academia Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Mar 18 at 13:38

17 Answers 17


making them sing a song or blocking the door with a desk

Sorry, what? This is absolutely not how one should show respect to another human being and make them feel welcome and included.

Requesting a student to sing a song is public humiliation. Blocking a door is creating a fire hazard. Where I work, both are considered bad enough to potentially cost the lecturer their work. What is even more disturbing, that you obviously do not see a problem in your own actions and discuss only their effectiveness, not the damage they cause to the mental health of students and to the public image of the institution you work for.

I hope you reconsider your relations with students urgently. They are adults, and it is your job to help them learn without damaging their self-respect and integrity. The little power you have in your class should be grounded in mutual respect, not fear, and should be used to help them, not punish them.

Please do better.

  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Academia Meta, or in Academia Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Mar 18 at 13:38
  • 4
    I sympathise with this answer but it seems excessively harsh on the OP, who is after all seeking out advice on how to act appropriately as a lecturer. Please consider your own advice and help OP to learn without damaging their self-respect. Commented Mar 19 at 21:02
  • @user2390246 A lecturer (any lecturer, no just OP) is in position of power in relation to students. With great power comes great responsibility. I am not in a similar position of power in relation to OP. I am not asking OP to sing, and I can't shut a door to academia.SE for them. Moreover, I am not forcing them to read nor accept my answer. And no, I beg to differ, the original question of OP was not on how to act appropriately as a lecturer, but on how to control the classroom attendance more efficiently. Commented Mar 20 at 22:03
  • @DmitrySavostyanov Apologies if my implied comparison between you and OP was unhelpful. You are quite right, your level of responsibility to "help OP to learn without damaging their self-respect" is not as great as theirs towards their students. It's still an option open to you though. Commented Mar 22 at 11:39
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    This is a non-answer. OP asked how to handle students showing up late.
    – sourcream
    Commented Mar 30 at 16:10

As you stated in a comment, the issue to be discussed here are not the students being late, but

I am just always annoyed by people who are late.

They may have thousands of reasons to be late:

  • if it happens only rarely, it may be public transport or similar;
  • if it happens sytematically, they may have an unsolvable schedule clash, anything ranging from breast-feeding to having to report to a police station every day.

In any case, it is nothing of your concern. If you feel disrespected by them being late, do not worry: the ones finding your lessons boring or uninteresting are already sitting silently in the room and being annoyed by your "solutions" to the issue.

It may be that when you were a student being late at a lesson was the worst of the possible sin and crime against the socially accepted behavior you could commit, and you feel entitled to hold this system of moral values and therefore you are extremely annoyed by those buggers being late. My advice for you is not to base your current behavior on past social rules.

  • 1
    I think that is a mental problem but it can not be recognized as a mental problem. Obviously no society can systematically tolerate similar systematic late guys.
    – peterh
    Commented Mar 17 at 23:11
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    I was regularly late to a German class at university. Although the lecturer made sarcastic comments at times, I explained that it was because of the bus schedule that stopped me from being exactly on time.
    – Tom
    Commented Mar 18 at 9:25
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    transit might also be systematic, since often schedules are such that you either arrive too early or a little late, and the 10' missed are not worth the 30' less sleep
    – seldon
    Commented Mar 18 at 12:18
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    As a student who struggled with undiagnosed ADHD through college, I was regularly late for classes. I did not want to be late, I felt bad about being late, I was embarrassed by being late, and yet I continued to be late because "feeling bad" and "trying harder" weren't the solutions to my situation. If a student is chronically late, and you have genuine concern for them, you could approach them with empathy - privately, after class or in email, mention that you have noticed they are regularly late, and if there's anything you can do to help. Doing this non-judgmentally may be difficult!
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 18 at 18:18
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    @peterh I agree, I think you striked a big point. I would even extend further your thinking, a society that shows such a low level of empathy, as the one you describe, has clearly much bigger mental problem than systematically late people.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Mar 19 at 12:44

Record your classes and allow students to catch up on video later. That way if they can't make it in on time, they can stay at home without disturbing anybody.

I tend to start my 9am lectures at 9:10 because students do have difficulty with public transport at rush hour.

People tend to be night-owls when they are young and progressively "morning people" as they get older. Academics ought to be aware that most students will be young people and not at their best at 8:30. It isn't their fault, it is biology and we should be understanding of other people and considerate of their problems. I'm the other way round, the students would need to cut me some slack if I have to teach after 5pm, when I am tired.

  • 2
    I think being young does not mean that they are not in their best at 8:30. I could be my best at 7:00 - if I did not slept at the night and drunk a liter of caffee. There was no other option, if I have fallen asleep, I could wake up about at 9:00.
    – peterh
    Commented Mar 17 at 23:12
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    @peterh Many sleep researchers believe there are biological reasons for why teenage students struggle to function in the mornings, and even that early morning routines are deleterious to young people's health, so have campaigned for school start times to be put back. theconversation.com/…
    – Silverfish
    Commented Mar 17 at 23:40
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    One of my lecturers ended his lectures at (T+1hr) sharp, with no time for questions, but started his lectures 10 min late, and that was the time to ask questions etc. Which meant latecomers had some catch-up time, while also, there was a point in being on time.
    – Bennet
    Commented Mar 18 at 9:08

Ignore it.

Also, if you have some attendance requirement, drop that as well (if you have the power to do so). That way students aren't compelled to get there when they know they'll be delayed; they can just skip the class, and so avoid annoying/distracting you with the late entry.

  • This is probably good for lecture style courses where you have a recording available, but otherwise, it may be better for have students to come anyway and still learn something if they are late, rather than skip the class and learn nothing.
    – Daniel
    Commented Mar 15 at 23:16
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    @Daniel, to me, that’s the student’s responsibility. The being an adult goes both ways. With that said, I would intentionally skip some classes as I found it easier to teach myself. In other cases, if I had to drive for 40 minutes for one class, I’d like to avoid it if possible. In most instances I got good grades. Point is, generally, you don’t need to know the reasons for tardiness or absence as a professor. The key importance is that the students learn and complete the class. If they fail due to such behavior, that’s on them just as well. Commented Mar 17 at 12:00
  • @JarrodChristman while I agree with what you say for the majority of students, there are some where it is not so clear, e.g. students with mental (or physical) health issues, mature students with childcare responsibilities (ideally lectures should be timetabled where possible with that in mind - for the lecturer as well), or increasingly students that are having to work full time jobs to be able to afford to study. Very different when I was a student and had a grant. I record my lectures for those students. Fully agree with "ignore it". Commented Mar 19 at 15:37
  • @JarrodChristman My (intended) point was that you should avoid creating an incentive for late students to skip the class entirely, such as a discouraging late entry. I agree that a student can decide if they would be better off staying home, but I think it is often better to encourage (but not enforce) late students to come anyway - or at least not be afraid to do so.
    – Daniel
    Commented Mar 21 at 2:11

Personally, I think you should not deal with them at all. I expect they're all adults and entering quietly and trying not to disturb.

For some lectures I had, the door would be closed / locked a few minutes after the nominal starting time. Students who are more than a few minutes late would then have to wait for the lecture break (~5 minutes after 45 minutes) to get in. This requires you have doors that can be locked in a way such that people can get out but not in, as otherwise (such as blocking it with a desk) it would be a safety hazard indeed.

This serves two purposes: it acts as a mild punishment for the late students, and it means the lecture is not disturbed by the late-comers.

I don't think you need to do so.

  • 20
    When I was a student and we had a lecturer acting like you described, we agreed that late-comers would knock on the door and students inside would come and open the door for them. The lecturer can go nuts, if they want, but we won't allow them to deny our classmates access to their place of learning only because a bus was late or whatever. Life is hard enough for everyone, and we should be helping each other, not protecting our little space of comfort at the disproportionate expense of others. Commented Mar 15 at 10:24
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    I think it is a bad solution, because there are two things to learn from life: - you may be late, but if you are late it is your problem, no one is forcing you to be here now; - you are sitting at a lecture and you are distracted by someone entering late ... please learn how to be focused. Modern life is full of distraction.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Mar 15 at 10:24
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    @EarlGrey But isn't lecturer creating one more distraction by blocking the door or asking students to sing? It takes latecomer 10 seconds to quietly enter the class and sit down. This is a minor issue. But as the student tries to deal with obstacles created by lecturer it will inevitably be more distracting to the whole class. Obviously, if you aim to create a distraction-free environment, you are not achieving it. Commented Mar 15 at 10:37
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    @DmitrySavostyanov hey, I agree with you, I think this is a bad solution, on par with half of the (ineffective) solution proposed by OP.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Mar 15 at 10:39
  • @EarlGrey Sorry, I might have misunderstood the nuances of the tone of your suggestion Commented Mar 15 at 10:41

I assume that you are primarily concerned about your students reaching the learning goals of your course and properly assessing whether they did (be it via points, exams, etc.). If your class and assessment are reasonably geared towards that goal, missing out on what you teach during class should be “punishment” enough¹.

Still, it’s unavoidable that some students show up late. These broadly fall into two cases:

  • Students who do not care. The most direct reason is that they do not feel that your class benefits them. This may be due to bad teaching, bad priorities, but it may also simply be that these students learn better by using textbooks or other material, with no fault on your side. Either way, focussing on the lateness will achieve very little here. If anything, using the entire time allotted to your class well should be the best motivator to make these students appear on time.

  • Students who are fully aware how bad being late is for them. These usually do not need additional motivation to overcome whatever reason they have for being late. They probably want as little attention as possible so they can focus on making the additional effort required to keep up.

In both cases, hardly any student will be motivated to appear on time by receiving negative attention in class. Rather, students will skip the class completely to avoid this attention – which is the last thing you should want.

¹ I am aware that some systems prevent you from doing this. For example if you have to treat students as customer royalty that cannot fail due to missing the learning target except for extreme cases. In such cases, enforcing attendance may be one of the few ways that ensures that bad students at least learn something. But then you should check what options your university provides for this.


Don't do anything at all. Yes, there is an element of disruption, but that is probably inescapable, anyway. The fact that they'll miss the beginning of the class' content is their own problem. Possibly involuntary, but, still, ...

Seriously, I'd advise against any frame of mind in which you have either an obligation or authority to hassle the kids about punctuality. Maybe in high school (k-12), but, at a certain point, just let it go.

... also, do not give advice about (to-me-hilarious) 20-something fashion choices. "It's fine. Nevermind." :)


I could not help but feel for you. When I give classes (University), I always start with a quick and easy 5-minute quiz on what was seen during the previous week. It motivates/rewards students to be there on-time and keeps most of them somewhat up-to-date. Some students won't care and there is not much to be done about those anyway. They tend to be the ones not showing up for exams and failing the class. Regards.


I disagree with the other answers suggesting ignoring the issue, but I agree that punishment is not appropriate. In discussion based classes where students are expected to participate or interact with their peers, late students waste class time and impede the learning of others. Often this is because they miss foundational information at the start of class, so they do not follow the rest and cannot complete exercises or work with others.

Ideally though, it's better change your course to support students - instead of expecting students to change to fit your course. A few approaches I've found to be helpful:

  1. Start the class with review of the previous class, an exam question prep, or logistics information (that you also communicate another way). Hopefully this reduces the impact on student participation.

  2. Try to request your class be given a later start time, or is located centrally on your campus. Some institutions have more flexibility with this - especially if you tell your scheduler that you are running a discussion based class.

  3. A quiz at the start of class is a good option if you still find that missing the start of class impedes student learning. Make the quiz helpful to students as well - either something to help them review for exams or practice a skill. And make sure to give feedback on the assessment.

  4. Add participation as a component to the students grade, and reduce this score for late students. Only do this if students participating is actually an important component of the class. Watching you lecture is not participating.

  • 1
    I seriously disagree with many of the answers others have posted here, but I'm guessing that some of that is because of differences in countries, cultures, circumstances, etc. This answer really nails my feelings though! Yes, "late students waste class time and impede the learning of others." I handle with this mostly by doing #1 with a little bit of #4. Commented Mar 21 at 0:41

Why is this a problem? Why is it your problem?

Start the class on time. If a student misses something because they're late, and has to make extra effort to catch up, that is sufficient discouragement. The question is only whether they learn the material and pass the test, however they achieve that.

(Note that "Start the meeting on time and people will learn not to be late if the meeting matters to them" is the business world's standard advice for dealing with late arrivals. Probably your deparment's too, or it should be.)

If they are being actively disruptive when they come in, address that. But simply entering should not be considered disruptive. It won't significantly distract the class if you're doing your job as an educator.

If it disrupts your focus, that means you need to improve your teaching skills and learn how to ignore the irrelevant.

Stop trying to fix it, because you can't. Stop stressing about it, because that does nobody any good. Just teach the material. Punctuality or lack of it, if it matters at all in the student's future life, is Not Your Responsibility.

Part of being a student is learning how to manage time. But that's not on the curriculum for your class. Don't waste everyone's time teaching it or testing it.

Your misplaced irritation disrupts the experience of the other students more than the late arrival ever could. Let go of it. Seriously.


I'd just like to throw something out from a disability perspective:

Sometimes (probably most of the time) students are late because of oversleeping, poor schedule management, etc. But it is extremely hard to design a policy to enforce on-time attendance that:

a) Does not penalize anyone with mobility issues

b) Does not single out anyone with mobility issues, by openly waiving the penalty

I've been the student hobbling into class late - not because my timing was off, but because I set my alarm to get me to class assuming that I'd wake up able to walk, which was a reasonable assumption when I went to bed. Or because class schedules were drawn up with "regular healthy person walking speeds" in mind.

There was a lecturer who would shut the doors on the dot, and I'd have to knock on them when late. He'd let me in, but bar other students, and I ended up feeling awful about his class. Dropped it as soon as I could, and didn't take more modules with him. Being singled out, even as a "well, you can't help being late so I'll let you in" sucked.

So, my fix, probably, is to minimize disruption from latecomers. I'd keep the space by the door free for them, maybe, so they don't have to traipse across the lecture hall. To my mind, it's very much in line with Blackstone's ratio - I'd rather let 10 lazy students off for their lateness than punish one with a really good reason for not being on time.


I'm a lecturer and I teach Calculus this semester. Since discipline is not part of the syllabus and is not required to learn about derivatives, I tend to ignore latecomers as long as they are not being distruptive.


Normally, 5 to 10 minutes late should not bother you at the first place. But even if it does, you can use slightly different and smart approaches. Maybe one or more in the following list could help your students to be punctual.

  1. Be kind and polite. Talk to them directly to enquire what makes them late every day. And propose some solutions, if possible.
  2. Try to include some marks for attendance and do it the first thing you do in the class and try to add their names in the start of the list. This would encourage everyone to be on time.
  3. Introduce things like pop up quiz when the class starts.
  4. Discuss the matter with their parents and school administration.

Happy Teaching :)

  • 2
    "Be kind and polite." +1 the "Golden rule" is a good start for a lot of questions on Academia SE. Treat people the way you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed. Commented Mar 15 at 10:55
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    I would find that someone "in power" enquiring me directly why I am late creepy and offensive. But if the same someone would make some general remarks about being late during the lesson and would stress how annoyed they are I would start thinking about it. The teacher is in a power role, so what would be fine among peers (asking "why are you late?") has not the same imapct. Regarding 2 and 3: this is results in a punishment for whatever random reason make someone late once Regarding 4: only if attendance is compulsory and the students are minors.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Mar 15 at 12:25
  • 1
    Finally, someone says talk to the students and ask them what is going on. I don't know what kind of place OP teaches but I have students who need to get their younger siblings (or their own children) to school in the morning. I just may be unavoidable, but they need the class for a requirement.
    – Elin
    Commented Mar 17 at 15:35
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    Regarding #4. Due to privacy laws in the UK (I'd assume similar would hold across EU, as ours are still based on GDPR), we are not allowed to even confirm whether somebody is our student to a parent, let alone involve the parents in any private student matters (such as class attendance) without the students' explicit permission.
    – penelope
    Commented Mar 18 at 12:34
  • Discussing with parents? That's funny.
    – Mihail
    Commented Mar 23 at 17:07

I'm assuming we're talking about adult students, rather than children.

You do nothing.

As long as they aren't being disruptive as they enter and do so quietly, it's their problem, not yours. As adults, they are responsible for their own learning not you. If they're late and miss material, that's their problem to rectify in whatever way they so choose.

It's worth mentioning, however, that you have no obligation to help them rectify the issue if they're late repeatedly though. So there's no need for you to disrupt your lecture by recapping what they missed.

You're a lecturer, not a teacher.


Some decades ago, I was a similar always-late guy. I explain, why are they doing it.

As we get up to work, we have a control. In the sense of control theory. As the minutes of the start of the class are approacing, so are you doing more things for it. If you wake up at 6:30, it does not really matter if you lose 2 min to get a fresh, hot coffee. But if there is 8:28 and you have just now got out of the bus at the University, then you will run.

So, as the deadline is approaching, so is your brain more focused to the task.

This control works in their brain badly. Also they are doing as usual, but they will be at the 8:33 bus and so they will appear at 8:36 in the class, if they run. Yes, they will run.

I think you can not do anything. You can torture them, then they will suffer. You can threat them, and so they will arrive 2-3 times in time.

Also they can not do too much and it will be a serious problem for them in their entire life. They will survive it, but they will suffer.

  • Please, even if you "Some decades ago, I was a similar always-late guy." then either explain how you managed then to avoid suffering in your entire life (if you managed not to suffer) or , if you did not manage to overcome this problem., stop extrapolating from your single anedoctal personal point to a general truth. We had enough messianic leaders in human history ...
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Mar 19 at 14:08
  • @EarlGrey I did not. I suffer. Fortunately, after graduation, you might have access to jobs where it is more tolerated. I am watching people with similar behavior carefully and I think they are doing the same. I am also thinking, it is somehow a mental problem and there is no cure.
    – peterh
    Commented Mar 19 at 15:53

The solution probably depends in part on why the students are late. Are they

  • dorm dwellers waking up late and stumbling across campus to arrive late
  • car commuters who struggle to find parking until the students in 7 am classes leave
  • public transit commuters taking a bus that is scheduled to arrive at campus at 8:15 but usually arrives at 8:20 or 8:25

I'd have more sympathy for students in the last group, especially if they are dealing with an inefficient transit system; someone who signs up for an 8:30 class and then finds that they need to leave the house at 6:25 to guarantee on-time attendance may simply not be able to make all the pieces work.

(Source, in part: 8:00 am Calculus and the T4 bus; 7:30 am English and taking the Q8 bus (every half hour) to the C2 bus (every half hour))

One possible solution way to mitigate the disruption is to adopt a policy that you will open the door once to admit the latecomers as a group, as some theaters and sporting events do.

But absolutely talk to the students and figure out a solution that works with them, even if it involves reducing their grades or banning questions on material covered at the beginning of the class from students who missed part of the class.

  • Many students tell me that they just could not wake up on time. Sleeping late is very trendy.
    – user11584
    Commented Mar 18 at 7:46
  • Then they just should not have signed up for such an early class.
    – arp
    Commented Mar 18 at 17:22

If the class is in person with students available for the following: Hand out a written test at the start of class time. Make it a very short test that should take up at most 2 minutes to complete. Make it on the subject of the previous class day and make it easy. Walk around the class and hand out the tests quickly. Then walk around the class and pick up the tests quickly, completed or not pick them up. Make these tests sufficient to prove or disprove the student's retention of the previous class instruction, and make the results directly influence the final grade. If a student walks in late, after the tests have been handed out, and after you are back in your chair, then do not hand them a test. They get a zero credit for that test that day. Adjust your logic for this sufficient to cover your self legally, which you should know how to do since you probably have a four year teaching degree. Then if they later bring an excuse to you that you alone find acceptable, at that time adjust the zero to whatever you decide. No excuse that you alone find acceptable = no removal of the zero. Get your logic straight and then stand your ground and do not give in even one time.

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    In many places, such as UK, lecturer's can't give out summative assignments at their will. All summative assignments need to be included in the course specification, timetabled in advance, prepared in advance and vetted by another staff member. Provisions should be made for students with special learning needs, e.g. separate classroom to take an exam and a separate invigilator. No wonder in the UK we rarely give students summative 2-minute quizes. Commented Mar 17 at 0:28
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    +1 - can't beleive the number of people saying just ignore it!!
    – deep64blue
    Commented Mar 17 at 8:28
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    Your proposal is at odds with the basic paradigm that assessments should be aligned with the learning target. You are primarily testing the abilities to regurgitate memorised stuff (you cannot demonstrate understanding in two minutes), to comprehend and solve tasks as well as possibly guess the answers under extreme time pressure and stress, and to be on time. On top, to be actually fair about excuses for being late, you are forcing a huge amount of minutiae unto yourself and others: E.g., consider what a student needs to do to show that a train was late and what you need to do to check it.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Mar 17 at 9:00
  • 1
    Are you suggesting that the teacher change the course requirements partway through the course? I can't imagine the customers (i.e. the students) tolerating that. In every university where I've taught, the students are paying to be there, and the professor is the one being paid, not the other way around. Commented Mar 18 at 4:40
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    @Wrzlprmft Not that I entirely disagree, but this is a bit situational. I teach at a small community college in an area where many of the high school instructors lack proper certification. Students often come to me without basic college readiness skills, so many of the learning objectives in all of my classes pertain to these skills---a small portion of every student's grade is dependent up on attending office hours, coming to class (on time!), simply turning in work, and so on. I also think that there is some value in a certain (small) quantity of rote work, as this builds a foundation. Commented Mar 18 at 18:24

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