Starting the Class 1
What's the problem?
Students who arrive late disrupt proceedings.
What does it mean?
Without being too judgemental, it means that something else has a higher priority than getting to class on time. It is of course up to you to decide whether that "something" is a legitimate excuse. Naturally students know this and frame their excuses to appeal to what they think your priorities are.
How can I handle it?
From a pure "process" viewpoint, if they proffer an apology and you accept it, you are accepting responsibility for their excuse:
"OK, go and sit down..."
and they have "got away with it".
It is usual practice to accept such excuses once or twice before making an issue of it, but if you think confrontation is the appropriate strategy, you may need to say something like:
"Another way of looking at it is that you did not set out in time to catch the bus. That's your privilege, but please don't ask me to accept it as a legitimate excuse."
You have a balancing act here. You can "send a message" about punctuality and make your expectations clear, but you risk alienating the students, and establishing a culture of resentment which does not facilitate learning. It's difficult, particularly because you may well want to handle particular students differently, and hence lay yourself open to allegations of "picking on" individuals. Moreover, you are inviting a discussion, and this is not the time to have it. So if you want to go down that route, do it after the class.
As ever, make the ground rules clear at the start.
Pragmatically, however, how do you avoid wasting time up-dating the late student(s) at the expense of the rest of the class, or risking a few students who have lost track of what you are teaching, or having a small group muttering (usually inaccurately) about catching up?
Do something else for few minutes before you introduce new material. Something valuable but not essential.
- Review homework.
- Conclude an exercise started in the previous session.
- Set an "advance organiser" exercise which relates students' experience to the current topic. The only problem here is that the late students are those who may need it most.
- Recapitulate where you are in the overall scheme of work.
This must not be time-wasting. If the students get the message that the first ten minutes of a session don't matter, you will end up with more problems than you started with. Late students must be slightly disadvantaged, but not to the extent that they control the whole class.
- Don't lose more time by discussing excuses at the start of the class: tell the student you want to see him or her at the close, and make a point of reminding them before you wind up, because it's often a case of "last in, first out".