View of a Portrait of a young student with backpack being late to coursesYou’ve heard the expression; ninety percent of success is just showing up. This aphorism is valid for student success at any age. Students cannot be fully engaged in learning or gain enough exposure to theories and concepts if they are chronically absent or late to class. What causes such truancy and how can you as a teacher help re-engage students and parents to help motivate high levels of classroom attendance? We’ve identified some of the most common systemic causes of absenteeism below and have outlined ways for teachers to help students change their habits and achieve better academic performance.

Examples Of Why Some Students are Chronically Late or Absent

Behavioral Reasons:

  • A passive-aggressive personality style
  • Resistance or defiance of authority (to both parents and teachers)
  • A belief that arriving late or skipping class is a mark of coolness
  • A desire to push boundaries and rules
  • A lack of time management or organizational skills

Situational Reasons:

  • Family responsibilities, such as caring for younger siblings
  • Lack of transportation
  • Work conflicts
  • Chronic illness
  • Parents are not around or involved

Understanding the variety of reasons that cause chronic lateness and absence—both behavioral and personal—can help teachers address each instance on a personal level to remove barriers to attendance and successful learning.

Tips to Help Chronically Late and Absent Students

  1. Set Clear Expectations for Attendance. From day one, explain to students that arriving to class on time is an expectation and that even one unexcused absence or tardiness will result in consequences.
  2. Ask Why. Take your chronically late or absent student aside and ask why he or she is struggling to arrive on time. If you find out that the reasons are not behavioral, for example, the student has home or work responsibilities, offer to reach out to the student’s parents or provide information on school services that could help remove barriers to punctuality.
  3. Help Students Understand When It’s Ok to Stay Home. Some students may be staying home on days when they merely feel fatigued, disinterested, or want to avoid a test for which they haven’t prepared. Help students understand when to stay home (e.g., they are experiencing flu-like symptoms), and what is not an acceptable excuse for absence (e.g., they overslept and think skipping the whole day is better than hustling to make up lost time).
  4. Begin Class on Time. Students may start to slack on their punctuality if they feel class always begins a few minutes late. Set a positive, consistent example for students by always starting your lessons on time, even if students are still filtering in from the hallway.
  5. Make the First Ten Minutes of Class the Most Engaging. Give students a reason to be on time by making the beginning of class the most fun or valuable. Start the session with games, question and answer quizzes where students can earn prizes, or another motivating exercise that students won’t want to miss.
  6. Reward and Thank Those Students Who Arrive on Time. Use positive reinforcement to encourage students to take punctuality seriously. Reward students who are always on time or early with praise, extra credit points, or even prizes that motivate others to get in on the rewards.

Finally, for those cases where chronic lateness or absence is unavoidable but likely temporary, such as instances where a student is battling a chronic illness, provide support to help the student catch up on missed work and receive additional support. Maintain a catch-up binder for the student, offer one-on-one learning sessions, and seek out student tutors to provide further guidance and support.

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