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It's About Time!

Updated: Dec 5, 2021

Now that schools have returned to in-person learning for students, I’d like to think that parents will be more receptive to and respectful of teachers. Throughout my career, more than a few teachers shared their frustrations regarding parent-teacher conferences. The issue: parents who arrive late, or not at all, for scheduled parent-teacher conferences. While still a classroom teacher, I recall having had the same problem, along with an additional recollection - parents appearing randomly at my door (while class was in session) wanting an immediate, unscheduled, impromptu conference.


For some, arriving late has become more the rule than the exception. Regularly, late arrivals can be seen at church, work, appointments, performances, even funerals and weddings. The required daily sign-in log in the front office of schools often includes multiple pages of late arrivals. Though many assume that arriving late for school is primarily a high school problem, when examining records of high school students who are chronically late and/or have high rates of absenteeism, it is often noted that the trend began in elementary school – as early as kindergarten.


In today’s climate, time insensitivity is pervasive, spilling over into areas previously considered out-of-bounds. The last time I received a jury summons, not only were there several late arrivals the first day but when the final twenty-five were selected for the next step in the process and told to report the following morning no later than 9:25, four were still in absentia at 9:45! Finally, at 10:05, all were accounted for, making way for the judge to proceed. I wondered if anyone else was as appalled as I was at the total disrespect demonstrated by those who arrived late. One potential juror breezed in late with a McDonald’s breakfast in hand and another with a Starbuck’s coffee. None, I might add, openly apologized to the bailiff upon arrival.


To imply that this is a character issue will no doubt ruffle some feathers. The dictionary defines character as the “mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual; qualities that reflect degrees of excellence.” Trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship have been cited as six pillars of good character. These pillars typically develop over time, beginning in early childhood, and are most effectively instilled in children when consistently modeled by parents. The fact that tardiness and absenteeism have steadily increased over the last several decades indicates a clear disrespect for institutional guidelines and laws, as well as a basic lack of responsibility. In all fairness, there are times when arriving late or needing to cancel is unavoidable. However, such should never be the norm, should include a message to the individual with whom the appointment is scheduled, and should always include an apology.


Children who grow up observing adults who regularly disregard time-related expectations receive a direct lesson in irresponsibility and, I might add, selfishness. The message sent is that it is acceptable to arrive late and that the impact on others is of no real concern. Some reading this will say that I am over-reacting. Those who arrive late on a regular basis do not consider it to be a big deal. The reality is that it can absolutely be a big deal to those who are impacted.


Even for parents who model what they preach, the message may not always resonate as they would like. Many a teen has had to learn lessons the hard way. Case in point: A good friend’s daughter learned the importance of being on time when, as a teenager, she secured her first summer job. A nice young lady, Lydia was a good student and always polite. The second day on the job, however, she arrived a few minutes late and was shocked when she was immediately fired. Her boss, a fine, decent, gentleman was not having it. Recognizing the impact that his no-nonsense policy could have on Lydia’s future work life, he put the monkey squarely on her back. Fifteen years later, Lydia is a successful college graduate who has moved up in the ranks of her career. Rather than defend her daughter, to this day her mother continues to espouse that there could not have been a better response to her daughter’s failure to get to work on time. She was right.


© Sharon Knapp Lamberth, November 2021