In Attention Deficit: The Other Kind, I wrote:
All too often teachers divert their attention from students who are on task to those who are off task even when the off-task behavior poses no imminent threat to anyone’s safety or opportunity to learn. The price for doing this is steep, as it sends the wrong message to all students: negative behavior trumps positive behavior when it comes to winning your attention. Unless it’s a fire that needs to be put out now, either ignore it or address it at a more opportune time.
Now an example of a negative behavior that often gets teachers’ attention at the expense of positive behavior: tardiness. “Why are you late?,” “That’s your third time this month; you need to get here on time!”—just a couple of the ways teachers commonly greet tardy students, both of which may be appropriate responses, but not then. Even worse, a lot of teachers put class further on hold by filling latecomers in on what they’ve missed.
Diverting your attention to tardy students shortchanges punctual students for obvious reasons. But it’s also a disservice to the latecomers themselves, since it conditions them to go through life expecting similar treatment. Yet have you ever heard of a referee delaying a game to accommodate late-arriving fans? Or a religious leader holding up a service as oversleepers filed in? And so, just as the show must go on once the curtain raises in the theatre, so must the lesson go on once the bell rings in your classroom.
Don’t get me wrong. I realize some students are late due to circumstances beyond their control, while others could use some time-management coaching. But I’m not suggesting you shame students for being late. Nor am I suggesting you ignore their lateness altogether, but rather that you ignore it until you can respond without interrupting class. This means looking the other way and biting your tongue when students walk in late. But it also means provisions that allow tardy students to ease into class as quietly and self-sufficiently as possible. One idea that works well is having bins/baskets near the entrance to the room for students to place tardy passes and obtain handouts. Another: requiring late students to ask classmates what they missed (at an appropriate time, of course) rather than ask you.