How to Curb Tardiness With Middle School Students

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I have a seventh-grade student who saunters into class at least 5 minutes late every day. I actually have him for two different classes. It just drives me crazy. No matter what I say or even how angry I get, he doesn’t show up on time. Before you ask, there is no reason for his tardiness. His last class is 10 feet from mine. I asked around and he is only late to my class. We have a demerits system and no matter how many times he gets demerits for tardiness, he continues to be late. I always start these two classes being angry at this student. What do I do? -Mary, Cincinnati, Ohio



From what you describe, you are encouraging this behavior by allowing this kid to stop you from teaching while giving two different classes an entertaining show of frustration and anger. As a former difficult middle school student myself, I can tell you that there is significant glory given by peers to kids who can stop instruction and turn their teachers into crazy people. In the mind of a middle school class clown, getting attention, control, and work avoidance for his friends will be very much worth any number of demerits.

Here is how I would stop talking and start taking action:

Kid does a cool-kid walk into class, like Joe Namath walking into Studio 54 in 1976.

Kid Whisperer completely ignores Kid and continues teaching with excitement and emotion. Whenever it is convenient for Kid Whisperer, he whispers to Kid:

Kid Whisperer: Yikes. I’m not mad at you. I’ll be doing something about this at some point. Don’t let it ruin your day.

Kid Whisperer walks away and continues to teach with excitement and emotion while Kid makes a failing attempt at getting the big three: attention, control, and work avoidance.

Kid: What’d I do?!?!?! This is crazy. What’d I do??!??

Kid Whisperer: Alright, who can tell us the three branches of government…

The next day, Kid Whisperer has had some important conversations and has Kid come in during lunch after getting his food.

Kid Whisperer: Hi there. I think I owe you an apology. Throughout this year I think I have been kind of rude to you about you being late to my classes. I think me getting upset about your tardiness has tricked you into thinking that you being late is my problem. So I want to apologize for being rude and for tricking you.

Kid: What are you talking about?

Kid Whisperer: You’ll see. Anyway, I’m not going to be rude or trick you anymore. From now on, if you miss part of my classes, I will just know that this is your way of telling me that you need to practice being on time. I will also allow you to make up any time missed during lunch or after school. Yesterday you were a total of 12 minutes late to my classes, so today you can either make up that time right now at lunch, or after school.

Kid: I have basketball after school. My mom will be mad at you if I miss practice.

Kid Whisperer: I talked to your mom and I talked to your coach. They are fine with this plan, and Coach Johnson wanted me to mention to you that it would be in your best interest to choose the lunch practice session.

Kid sits down for 12 minutes and eats his lunch while Kid Whisperer grades papers describing the three branches of government.

Because I didn’t give attention to Kid’s tardiness and because I didn’t become angry and entertaining, I stopped reinforcing tardiness. Because I gave it a consequence, I made the behavior less likely. Since tardiness worked so well for so long, Kid is likely to try it out again. When that happens, Kid Whisperer will simply keep teaching and, with a smile, whisper one word to the student: “Yikes.” Later, Kid Whisperer will repeat the consequence process.