In the five-plus years I have been an educator, I have always been a stickler for attendance. I always jot down my absent and tardy students and enforce grade deductions at the end of the semester.
Part of the reason I’m so tenacious when it comes to holding students accountable is because of my experience as an undergrad. I worked for the college newspaper, and like many of my colleagues, I treated class as optional. However, when I graduated, I lacked the theoretical foundation to understand and appreciate my role as a journalist. I often wonder how much better I would have been as a professional had I taken attendance more seriously.
I don’t want to make my students repeat my mistake. One of the biggest challenges for me at Lincoln is conveying how something like class tardiness perpetuates stereotypes of African-Americans. I often use the French psychoanalyst Frantz Fanon — whose works became the framework for postcolonial thought — to illustrate why small things such as punctuality have much broader implications.
Fanon wrote that Blacks (like many other minority groups) are constantly struggling against their own image. In other words, there are dominant perceptions of African-Americans in our society that many African-Americans must grapple with on a daily basis. This is why so many Black professionals argue that people of color have to do twice the work to get the same amount of recognition as their white counterparts.
I had a discussion this week with my upper-level course students, most of whom are seniors, about how tardiness relates to Fanon’s theory. If college is preparing one for professional life, shouldn’t students— particularly seniors in their final semester— learn the importance of punctuality as it relates to their own aspirations?
Some of my students were a bit shocked by my lecture, but I think I convinced most of them that internalizing good work habits is vital when one has to counter (mis)perceptions in the professional realm.
While it remains to be seen how this lecture impacts their long-term outlook, I hope at the least it convinces most of them to come a few minutes early instead of a few minutes late.
Unfortunately, my lesson on attendance was learned a few years too late …
Dr. Murali Balaji is an assistant professor in the Department of English and Mass Communications at Lincoln University.