May 4, 2023
Are you constantly plagued with a lack of motivation? Do you find yourself scrolling through Tik Tok instead of through your extensive list of assignments? Have you claimed “I’ll just do this in the morning” knowing full well that you most certainly will not be doing this in the morning? Would your friends describe you as ‘checked out’? If so, you’re not alone. With nearly 78 percent of high school seniors claiming to suffer from senioritis as they near graduation, there is an ongoing epidemic threatening the education of teens around the country (Roberts).
If you are not a high school senior like me, counting down the months, days, and hours until you get to walk across the stage at graduation, or perhaps you’ve never been ill-ridden with ‘senioritis’, allow me to enlighten you. Senioritis is a type of extreme academic burnout experienced by many seniors as they near the end of their high school careers. As zany as the name may come across, many psychologists believe that senioritis is a legitimate psychological condition. According to psychologist Laura Castor, “I think of senioritis as the ‘perfect storm’… so many forces are coming to bear on seniors all at once” (Roberts). Some of these conditions may include the relief of college admissions, the pleasure of freedom from authority, or excitement about starting a new chapter of life.
Though senioritis is hard, reframing the purpose of a high school education can help. In the United States, the conventional style of education is ‘teacher-centered’, wherein the teacher has full authority over their students, who learn passively. The problem with this pedagogy, as conveyed by educational psychologists in a research journal, is that, “when the teacher dominates the teaching and learning process, students are more likely to lose sight of their goals than when they develop their knowledge,” and, “children do not have enough opportunities for the development of their critical thinking and enhance their problem-solving skills” (Ahmed et al. 416). On the contrary, a ‘student-centered’ learning approach poses a solution for higher engagement levels amongst students. In this style of education, learner activity and responsibility is prioritized and curriculum is relevant to the lives, needs and interests of students so that they can actively create, understand, and demonstrate new knowledge. There has been a great deal of research done to support this shift in education. Notably, the American Psychological Association highlights research suggesting that such autonomy generally leads to, “Greater displays of active planning and self-monitoring of learning, higher levels of student awareness of their own progress and achievement, more resourcefulness and efficiency in using learning resources, and higher academic performance” (McCombs). All of this is to say that if more schools incorporate a more student centered approach to learning, seniors will feel more centered in their own education, leading to less burn out and more voluntary engagement.
In the fall trimester of my senior year, amidst the chaos of juggling college applications, a sport, and the extensive workload of my classes, I woke up every morning ecstatic for the 90 minutes that I would spend in my political philosophy class. Now, let me just unpack this a bit. There are three things that I would have never imagined myself spending my senior year doing: 1.) taking a philosophy class, 2.) taking a philosophy class with Mr. Quinn, the academic dean of my school, and 3.) loving said philosophy class so much that I would go on to start — and become president of — my school’s philosophy club. Yet, I soon found that this very class had become the cure that I needed for my own debilitating case of senioritis. Maybe it was because of the new friendships that had blossomed with my classmates or because of the riveting conversations we had surrounding justice and introspection. But mostly, I believe that I was so engaged because of the platform we, as students, were given to take initiative of our own learning and ways of thinking. My philosophy class truly encapsulated what it meant for a classroom to be student-centered. My teacher fostered an environment in which students could freely express their own ideas in community with others. Every Monday we participated in ‘weekend philosophizing’ where students could reflect on their weekend experiences in relation to philosophical topics, taking the conversation in a variety of intriguing, often silly directions. Additionally, rather than taking an exam at the end of the term, we were able to write and perform a philosophical play as a class. It was in the moments like these where I realized how truly engaged I was in the course. I did not find myself procrastinating my homework, playing 2048 during class, or counting down the minutes until I could leave the classroom; I genuinely felt a greater love for learning.
With this in mind, I propose a treatment for senioritis: make yourself a leader of your own learning. Although your high school experience may be winding down, the accumulated knowledge, the laughter, and the relationships that you build do not end as a new chapter begins. Maybe you’ve gotten into college recently and have experienced the joy of seeing virtual confetti fall down your computer screen. Congratulations! But your time is not done. Savor the moment. Engage with your peers. Challenge your own ways of thinking. Complain about your assignments, but remind yourself of what you’re taking away from them. Senior year is one of the last formative experiences that kids will have before they enter the real world, and it would be a shame if they were too bed-ridden from senioritis to experience it fully.
I acknowledge that reframing our education systems in this way is no easy, nor equitable feat. In fact, the financial disparities and systemic racism in the United States make it very difficult to ensure that all learners can have the same access to an improved education. But, what if they could? What if all high school seniors were given the conditions necessary to thrive?
WARNING: Some side effects may include: continued success in academic classes, improved relationships with teachers, completed assignments, and seniors who value their educational experiences.
Ahmed, Sadaf Zamir, et al. “Effectiveness of Teacher’s Centered Approach on Student’s Learning at University Level.” Journal of Positive School Psychology, vol. 6, no. 10, 2022, pp. 415–28.
Roberts, Madison. “Senioritis: 78 Percent of Seniors Say They Have It, but Is It Real?” The Northwood Omniscient, 23 Mar. 2012, www.nhsomniscient.com/2012/03/23/senioritis-78-percent-of-seniors-say-they-have-it-but-is-it-real/#:~:text=In%20a%20survey%20conducted%20by,on%20their%20performance%20thus%20far. Accessed 16 Apr. 2023.
“‘Learning-Centered’ vs ‘Teaching-Centered.’” Northern Arizona University, 2023, in.nau.edu/ocldaa/learning-centered-vs-teaching-centered/.
McCombs, Barbara. “Developing Responsible and Autonomous Learners: A Key to Motivating Students.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, Mar. 2015, www.apa.org/education-career/k12/learners.
“TEAL Center Fact Sheet №6: Student-Centered Learning.” Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy, 2010. PDF.
Claire Cortland is a Miss Porter’s School (CT) senior and will attend Boston College in the fall.
One thought on “A Cure for Senioritis: How to No Longer be ‘Sick’ of School | Claire Cortland | 5 Min Read”
I really hope this article can surface an important discussion between students and teachers around the question of: Why ? Why isn’t this kind of experience the norm? What exactly are the conditions that prevent self-direction from being the norm?
In fact, I often see the opposite. I see children conditioned to be afraid and largely unfamiliar with their own perspective. Most are quick to fish for a “correct” answer – as opposed to resonance within their own being. Most are getting through the day, through a never ending pile of assignments, things to do, standards to meet and boxes to check. This is learned behavior – and nervous system disregulation – that we replicate long into the future.
While I absolutely applaud this authors positive attitude about taking self direction into ones on own hands, at the same time I’m putting on my “realist” hat and wondering: “At what time in the day might most children take this self-directed action?” “How realistic is it for students to truly do this?”
Education systems that feed into our global economic and employment market, overwhelmingly condition youth to disconnect from their own wisdom, their body intelligence, intuition, insight, voice, and unique perspective.
“I have to do things I dont want to do to survive” “I have to listen to people with more power than me to get by” “I have to repress my feelings and emotions to get by ” … all pretty common scripts…
Just consider: how much space do you authentically have in your life for self direction amidst the immense fear of not meeting expectations? How much self direction might one have amidst a hunger games, incentivizing competition for few “spots at the top” …
Whether successful or flailing, lets just be honest – most are conditioned into a rat race that makes self direction appear to be risky business.
Enabling what this bright author is advocating for would require nothing short of a liberation movement led by youth at the self, school and community level. One that EXITS COMPLICITY in the overwhelming stakes of competition generated by the backside of our global economic equation — i.e. repress myself now so I can show I went to college and maybe get a good job … where my time and energy are largely exploited…
Without taking this reality seriously, and naming it, we will with certainty remain in conditions where self direction is merely allowed at the 2% margins of our classes, coursework and lives. Frankly this kind of liberation movement – of conscious self direction – would be wise for all of us.