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Symptoms and Treatment for Senioritis

(Image courtesy of Michael Jacobs Productions and Touchstone Television.)

Well, we’ve made it to spring.  And with that revelation, educators, administrators, and school staff alike might be noticing some changes within the student body: it’s senioritis season. 

Symptoms of senioritis may include (but are not limited to):

  • Mild to moderate cases of staring out the window
  • Swollen ego
  • Homework fatigue
  • Inflammation of the whining gland
  • Acute mediocrity
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Excessive tardiness
  • Classroom intolerance
  • Excessive hallway wandering
  • Existential malaise

Causes and Diagnosis

Now, although contagious, there are actually many potential (and effective) treatments for most cases of senioritis, even after it has reached a critical level of infection.  However, the best prognosis comes from catching it in its early stages.  Treatment plans mostly center around acknowledgement of the upcoming transition and setting up systems within your classroom and the larger school community to honor and encourage post-high school exploration and independence.  Senioritis has roots in both detachment anxiety and a desire to get a head start on the next phase of life.  Helping students to take these first few steps in their senior yearwith the guidance of their trusted academic communitycan help to ease such anxieties.  Consider some of the treatment recommendations below.  In certain cases, these treatments are just good teaching practice, but paying extra mind to these aspects of our practice can particularly ease the symptoms of an infected senioritis patient.

Common Treatments

Encourage students to take a college course.  By senior year, many students are already excited to embark on a new educational journey.  Whether it’s a university or a trade, they’re likely thinking about something quite specialized.  Most local universities and community colleges have programs for ambitious high school youth looking to get an early jump on acquiring post-high school skills.  Although this is probably not a new idea for your school community, it is a common misconception that only exceptional students should be encouraged to take this academic leap.  This is far from true.  Although your most ambitious academics are likely to do phenomenally well in the collegiate environment, don’t forget your strugglers.  Often, you’ll find that all they really needed was an opportunity like this to explore something important to them.  And college might not be the only option.  Work study and local apprenticeship programs might also be a great way to get graduating students in a field of their choosing, while earning credits their senior year.  Online courses and independent studies might also be an option for your school community.

Offer Choice.  Students preparing to enter the working world, college, or otherwise are starting to feel the excitement of independence.  Why fight against it?  Whenever possible, give these students added flexibility within the classroom.  This could be as simple as allowing creativity around a learning outcome or even adjusting the scope of a particular assignment in order to integrate their particular focus area or interests.  What is your student’s post-high school plan?  How could they incorporate this passion into your classroom to help make their work more relevant, while also giving them a head start in their upcoming professional career?  For instance, could an aspiring clinical psychologist work to diagnose Holden Caulfield?  Could an aspiring mechanic draft a lab report after experimenting with different motor oil brands?  Perhaps your interior designer could use geometry to make the best use of an awkwardly constructed home space.  These small adjustments could mean the world to your seniors who feel ready to embark on the next phase of their life journey.  Check out the Universal Design for Learning’s guidelines for providing multiple means of engagement here.

Senior Projects.  Schoolwide buildup to a culminating senior project or portfolio presentation can keep students engaged in their learning by celebrating reflection and encouraging community action.  Senior projects tend to encourage students to connect their years of learning to both the local and global communities.  They allow students to create meaning out of all their hard work and put it to action in a thoughtful and self-driven way.  Getting these young adults creating community gardens, tackling social justice on the streets, or raising funds for a community organization can really incentivize students who are ready to reap the fruits of their classroom labor.  Similarly, portfolio presentations as a sort of “academic defense” give students time to reflect on their years of learning and metacognitively identify their own growth, challenges, and strengths.  In such cases, students will often present to their school, families, teachers, and community what they believe they have accomplished in their years of formal education so far.  Many schools use these sorts of “capstone” projects in order to help students to understand the true purpose of an educated and well-examined life.  They can be phenomenal ways to challenge your seniors to bridge the gap between theory and practice.  Check out Sante Fe High School’s senior project framework here.  Teaching Channel discusses senior defenses here.

Introduce Privileges.  As educators, we hope that by the end of students’ time with us, they have become independent thinkers and life-long learners.  And a very real part of our “adult world” includes learning how to manage our own timea challenge often first encountered when the stakes are much too high (college, the workplace, etc.).  Consider the possibility of adopting school or class-wide “senior privileges” to help students practice this sort of responsibility before graduation day.  Some schools might allow seniors within a certain GPA to choose how they spend their time in class with laminated hall passes.  This might allow a student the freedom to work with a peer in the library on an essay they are struggling with, instead of participating in the test review day in calculus – a course they are passing with flying colors.  Seniors might be given the flexibility to come into school late or leave early to account for out-of-school projects, jobs, or other personal responsibilities.  Even the opportunity to leave campus for lunch or to run their own class meetings shows seniors that we trust them.  It allows them to practice making the choices that will ultimately affect their own future, while providing the safety net of the high school community.  Such privileges remind our seniors that we believe in them, and that they are ready for whatever’s up next.

Finally, an ounce of prevention.  The weather’s warm.  The buds of May begin to unfold.  The sunshine calls all students with whispers of summer.  Unfortunately, these signs of spring only aggravate the symptoms of senioritis.  So plan for the outbreak.  Perhaps line up some interactive field trips for your spring session.  Can you get outside for a field study?  Tour a workplace?  Encourage neighborhood interviews?  Link up with a community organization to bring the potential of real change to their fingertips?  Managing senioritis starts with the curriculum.  What opportunities are your lessons providing that allow students to explore their world in a new way?  What can you give them that they haven’t already seen?  How can you get your seniors applying new skills and concepts, as opposed to keeping them theoretical?  Most importantly, how can you change the learning environment?  They’re not high schoolers anymore.  Planning opportunities to get your students out of the classroom in the spring will help them cope better with the anxiety of departing the high school classroom.


Written by Keith Lambert, Education World Associate Contributing Editor

Lambert is an English / Language Arts teacher and teacher trainer in Connecticut.