Dealing with "Senioritis"

Feb 3, 2012
Every teacher that has twelfth grade students understands “senioritis” and its symptoms – lack of focus, daydreaming, poor attitudes, slackening work ethic. Of course, such symptoms could be said to describe all high school students at one time or another. True enough, but seniors tend to have them in heavier doses.  Growing restless, occupied with thoughts of college and life beyond high school, they just want to leave and move on, already. Having taught high school seniors for nearly a decade, I see it every year in varying intensity. I have had a few students who, other than expressing excitement about graduating, seem to exhibit no real signs of senioritis. But there are others who seem to miss their entire senior year of high school because they busy themselves with future events and plans – which college? What major? Who will my roommate be? What scholarships can I get? Granted, these are important issues to contemplate, but some simply go too far, wishing away the remains of their school days in light of what may lie ahead. I have always found such cases sad because, though they do not realize it, they can never reclaim those days. Any day wished away is a day lost. So, how should teachers or homeschooling parents address senioritis? I have a bit of simple, practical advice that has worked pretty well for me. 1.  Talk to them about senioritis & their future plans Every year, I have a talk with my seniors about senioritis, just to clear the air. I take some time at the beginning of a class and talk to them about how tempting it will be to focus more on college applications, essays, visits, and plans than on having a productive senior year. Of course, I warn them of the danger of growing up and moving on too fast, but the conversation is far from an intervention. I simply open it up and let them talk about their anxieties, concerns, and excitements. So far, this has proven helpful and it reminds the students that my door is open to discuss it. They know they can talk about it. I also write a weekly section of our school newsletter that “spotlights” one or two seniors, listing their college acceptances, scholarships, and plans after graduation.  They should know that their teachers and school community are proud of them and supportive of their next steps. I often ask them about how their college search is going, what their plans are, and I offer to write recommendations whenever needed. Letting them talk about those things can sometimes alleviate their stress and help them focus on class work now, rather than simply daydreaming about it all. 2. Remember what it was like for you The stress of senior year can get to anyone and, for many parents and teachers, we remember it well. Remember the applications, visits, and nervousness? Good. Now, multiply it several times over. College acceptance has become big business and much of the information out there preys upon the fears of parents and students. Many of our students are under a great deal of pressure – from false information and the horror stories of others, from family, and even from themselves. So, no matter how frustrating it is to deal with cranky seniors, it can be helpful to remember what it’s like, because it has grown much worse in recent years. 3. Mix up your teaching routines and techniques Senioritis can be likened to Spring fever, but on steroids. So, it can help to mix things up a bit. Plan a reading day outside when it’s sunny. If you have seniors in the morning, brew some coffee or bring in doughnuts (that one is good for the teacher too). Try to connect readings and writing assignments with their current circumstances. 4. Challenge them academically  The general consensus in many schools seems to be that a student’s senior year is supposed to be a cake walk. They have accumulated nearly all of the credits they need to graduate and they want to coast. Nothing could be worse preparation for college. At a time when students should see the bar raised, it suddenly gets easier.  Add in a bad case of senioritis and everyone is in for a rough year. Teachers should challenge their seniors to perform at a higher level. Though they may not have a heavy load of classes, they should be expected to do excellent work.  Not only will it better prepare them for that first semester of college, it will direct their attention and focus a little closer to this school year.
Brian  Phillips

Brian Phillips

Dr. Brian Phillips is the Director of CiRCE Consulting & the Headmaster of the CiRCE Academy.  He also serves as a pastor in Concord, NC, where he lives with his wife and their four children.

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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Thanks for these suggestions. We're facing senioritis with my oldest this year and hopefully these will help us work through it.

Joy, I certainly hope it helps. Hang in there!

I have homeschooled 6 sons through their senior year and graduation and I always thought if they were in school we could have avoided this disease but 12 grade is a little late to change streams. I am happy to hear that this is a universal problem and not just confined to my own home. I did something a little different with my recent senior. I graduated him in December, he already had his credits, and this semester he is in college. Next year I will have my first female senior. Is this problem exclusive to boys? I am hoping the answer is yes.

I graduated from a small rural school in Louisiana in 1967. I had friends in other schools in the region. Seniorites was not found among us nor among our peers in neighboring schools. It was not even contemplated. For the good students to get goods grades, they had to work very hard right up to the end. For the weak students to pass and earn a diploma, they had to work very hard right up to the end. A poor grade on a Senior final could destroy a GPA for a good student; and a poor grade on a Senior final could fail a weak student and cause him to repeat the year. The good students were very happy to have earned the high GPA's; they were not a given; and the weaker students were very happy to receive a diploma and to be allowed to graduate with their peers. There may be no objective correlative; however one might speculate that the "draft" might have had something to do with motivating boys and keeping the advent of Seniorites suppressed.

I studied and worked overseas in the 1970's and 1980's. When I returned to the States in the late 1980's, I found the "tradition" of Seniorites to be pandemic.

Cindy, I'm sorry to say that, in my experience, senioritis is an equal opportunity condition. But, having been through it before, you'll probably do just fine. Early graduation would certainly help, I'm sure.

My experience this year: the girls are 100x worse.

Not that that's a universal thing or anything. Just in my class this year.

Cindy, one of my elders was commiserating with me the other day over 17yo's senioritis and told me that his daughter did her best to "self-destruct" her senior year. So, no, it isn't just confined to boys. Now that all of the applications are in, I'm hoping he will relax a bit. Baseball season will help, I think, as when he's on the field, nothing else in the world matters.

Thanks, guys (and Joy), now I am in a real panic.