Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gripe: Students lack of Punctuality

I have been driven crazy by students arriving late to class.  They seem to think there is nothing wrong with arriving 5 to 10 minutes late.

This problem was highlighted in one of my final tutorials for the semester.  At the scheduled starting time, there were 8 students in the class.  I divided them into two groups of 4 students and had each group look at a question from last semester's exam paper.  They moved the furniture around so they could work in groups and got started on their problem.

A couple of minutes later, two more students arrived so I explained what we were doing and added one to each group.  Then another pair arrived.  I don't like having groups of more than 5 students so I pulled the earlier tardy students out of their group and formed them into a group with the more recent tardy students and gave them a different problem from the exam to solve.  I now had three groups of 4 students.

Another two students arrived.  I added one student to two of the groups.  Another student arrived and I added him to the remaining group.  Each time I had to explain what we were doing in the class and furniture needed to be shuffled to get the groups working together.  Just when I thought I had it settled, another student arrived.  I had to extract the 5th student from each of the groups to form a new group and added the latest arrival to now give me four groups of 4 students.

It was now 15 minutes after the scheduled starting time.  One group was just starting their task.  The other groups had not progressed very far on their tasks due to the disruptions of students being added and withdrawn.  These disruptions meant that the tutorial only covered half the material which I had intended to cover in that class.

The problem with lateness is exacerbated by some of my colleagues who are routinely five minutes late to class.  How can we expect better behaviour from students when the academics are setting the bad example.

I know that some students have valid reasons for being late but I doubt all the reasons for tardiness are valid.  I have worked in Thailand, a country renowned for its flexible concept of punctuality, and have not experienced this level of unpunctuality.  I teach in a business degree; Haliburton claimed that "Punctuality is the soul of business."  I can only wonder if students carry this behaviour to their professional life; I do not think many clients would put up with this treatment for long.

When I was at School, if you were late to class you had to go to the Principal's office to get a late pass and, if it happened too frequently, to be disciplined.  This approach cannot be applied in University however; I cannot imagine the Vice-Chancellor dispensing late passes.  In my ideal world I would develop an appropriate punishment for lateness.  As professionalism is a desired generic skill, students who are late to class will be docked marks for failure to demonstrate they can behave professionally.

Now, where is my horse and lance.  I see a windmill in the distance.

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