Fighting Senioritis: The Joys of Teaching 12th Graders

Charles VerheyTeacher Life

March 14, 2019
Aimee Ross

March. It comes in either roaring or bleating, and it’s known for madness, green beer, and daylight saving time. But in 12th grade classes across the nation, March also means scholarship deadlines, one last grading period, and the peak season of senioritis.

Senioritis, according to anyone who’s ever been one, is when motivation and effort levels flat line, usually during senior year, resulting in tardiness, absences, and poor grades. Though most 12th graders claim to be done with school much earlier than March (and sometimes even during students’ junior years), typically the symptoms and signs increase as graduation comes into focus.

And man, are they tough to fight—especially on a daily basis.

But I like to give it a shot. It is my job, after all. Here are a few ways I try to keep things fresh:

  • The Change Up: I am reminded quite often that high school seniors don’t act their age. On any given day, I can be dealing with kids who act between five and 13 years, depending who shouts, “My mom made spaghetti for dinner last night” or “I love blue Kool-Aid” out of turn, or who throws a colored pencil across the room at a paper dartboard his buddy is holding. And of course, trashcan basketball is loved across all ages. This is why it’s okay to change things up once in a while: coloring, Play-Doh, moving around the room for a vocabulary review, or even taking class outside can all be valid learning tools, depending, and definite slump breakers.
  • Reach the Mind Through the Stomach: Seniors are not too old for candy, bubble gum, cookies, ice cream or cake, chips, granola bars, fruit snacks—heck, any kind of food. This means everything can be turned into a contest or challenge. It also means everyone can be bribed to do school work. Just yesterday, when seniors tried to get out of writing their four-page APA research paper, I started a sentence without quite knowing how I would finish: “If you guys write these papers, I’ll . . .” “Bring us cookies?” someone shouted. “No! Cupcakes!” someone else said. And I thought, That’s it? Cupcakes? Oh yeah, I can do that. (I was expecting more commitment to something much larger—like a week with no work.)
  • Reverse the Roles: Seniors are natives of technology and social media land, and if all else fails, you can spend class time letting them teach you how to do something, understand something, or create something. I mean, why not? It doesn’t have to be formal or worth points to be educational or cover standards. Or, you could let them find educational game apps and challenge each other, a la Words with Friends. Or hey, what about Heads Up to practice learning amendments or vocabulary or characters from Lord of the Flies?
  • The Barter System: Seniors are all about making deals, especially if it means they get out of doing work. Wait—let me rephrase—if they think it means they’re getting out of doing work. It doesn’t really cost much valuable time to let them go to lunch early if they read five more pages first, or if they’ll do just three more problems. In truth, you may actually be getting more work out of them. When student engagement starts to suffer, I look for ways to still get what I want out of the unit or lesson or work, while giving the students some kind of a choice. It’s worth it.
  • Pick Their Brains: Twelfth graders care about school spirit, the state of their school, and how underclassmen behave. They are only too happy to make sure that no one catches the school on fire, misbehaves on a field trip, or smokes in the girls’ restroom if you make them know their voices are heard. They are the leaders of the school if we hand over the reins, and this is why finding out what they’d change about their school for the future could be a great way to get discussions or debates started.  
  • Standardize Fun: I try to keep Friday Fun Day a regular part of my classroom, even after 15 years of teaching seniors. Anything can fit, as long as you make it fun. And during the month of May, in order to keep seniors coming to school, I create a calendar for BYOS (Bring Your Own to Share) every day: favorite bag of chips, favorite photograph, favorite song, favorite t-shirt, etc. Again, it’s easy to get creative with the standards, while trying to keep the kids interested in still coming to school those last few days. Your attendance secretary will thank you.
  • There’s Always Next Year: Along those same lines, I try to plan my year’s curriculum accordingly. The first year I taught seniors, I mistakenly thought teaching Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the spring, when the poem is set, would really add some pizzazz. I was wrong. As we sludged along, reading the prologue out loud, students rife with senioritis tuned me out or fell asleep. So I took them outside to the softball practice field’s bleachers to read instead. The warm sunshine and change of scenery was just enough to get through it, thankfully, but I had to plan most of the next couple months’ lessons to be outdoors, since I’d opened that can of worms. Now, Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare’s sonnets, and an APA research paper all come before the Ides of March. Then I can save my best ideas for this time of the year. There are so many, many ways for ELA teachers to cover our standards, that there’s simply no excuse for not being creative. Plus, there’s the internet, y’know?

A lot of people think that 12th graders are apathetic, lazy teenagers who have no respect for anything or anyone, but I disagree. The seniors I’ve known over the last several years have been some of the most curious, honest, and open-minded people I’ve met, and sometimes to a fault (without filters). They make me laugh, make me feel alive, and make me happy to still be teaching.

Almost every single day. Even after March 1.

Posted By Aimee Ross | High School ELA Teacher

Aimee Ross is a nationally award-winning educator and writer who teaches secondary English at her high school alma mater in Loudonville, Ohio. Her first book, Permanent Marker: A Memoir (KiCam Projects), came out last March, and she has had numerous essays published online and in anthologies. Aimee is a former regional educator for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and teacher consultant for the National Writing Project at the local level. Learn more: