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The Joys - and Pains - of Teaching Seniors

Motivating and Teaching Seniors

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Teenagers in classroom acting playful.
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There is a certain attitude in high schools that Senior teachers often get off easy. Typically, their students finish sooner than the rest of the school. Further, the worst behaved students have often times left school for good by that point. Despite these positives, teaching Seniors is not always a bed of roses. So how do we keep students who are suffering from Chronic Senioritis motivated? I can't say I have all the answers, but I can give you some insights that might help you make it through the last day of graduation practice without losing your mind or your patience.

Teaching Seniors requires a person with a special personality. You can't take things as seriously with Seniors because, honestly, you are dealing with at least four special circumstances:

  1. Non-college bound students who are doing fine and will definitely graduate. They know that by second semester they only need to pass (not excel) in your class and therefore they do not take it seriously. Note: If you teach an non-required elective, this is even worse.

  2. College-bound students who by their second semester have already been accepted to their University and know that it is VERY rare that students will be turned away based on their last semester grades unless they fail.

  3. Students who are in danger of not graduating and are doing everything they can to stay afloat and make that grade that will give them the required GPA.

  4. Students who have no chance of graduating on time. These can be divided into two subcategories: those that will take the required summer courses to graduate and those that won't. Further, the ones who won't are often under the false impression that somehow a miracle will happen and they will be allowed to graduate. (What's really sad is that many schools allow these individuals to actually walk across the stage - just not get a diploma. Why can't we teach our students the harsh reality of their poor decisions? They will learn them soon enough - so aren't we doing them a disservice by not helping them learn coping mechanisms now? But that's another article for another day.)

So with that said, you can probably see that your best and average students are usually not interested in giving it their all. The only people still interested in working hard are those who either do or don't have a chance to graduate on time. And they are most interested in getting work in that will raise their grades.

What to do?

You can choose to give up for the last semester and just show movies - loosely based on your topic. You can continue teaching as always hoping they will settle down and get back to the way they were first semester. Or you can change what you are doing and include interest building activities that could actually result in some thinking and learning.

Ideas for Interest Building Activities:

  • Have the entire Senior class work on a project that culminates near the end of the year. In my school, we always had a 'Mock Legislature'. Kids spent time writing bills and then for two days, the bills went through committees. If they made it through the House committees then they had to go to the Senate committees. If they made it out of their, they had to go to the entire House and Senate. If they made it out of that, the Governor would determine if it was a worthy bill and either sign or veto it. Of course, the competition for the top spots (committee chairs, Speaker, Governor, etc.) would be advertised and students would have to apply and turn in resume's. etc. This kept kids motivated and interested in coming to school.
  • Hold classroom debates
  • Go back to Grade School. The oddest thing happens with last semester Seniors. They are eager to leave but they are also (secretly) afraid of leaving the safety of High School. Therefore, they seem to really enjoy activities in class that require artwork, cutting and pasting, experimenting, even coloring. Make them curricularly-sound - they will enjoy it.
  • Teach them about what they can expect in College. Spend a little time talking to them about college and about how to succeed. Teach them note-taking skills. Let them in on some truths - like how important it is to 'figure out' each professor at the beginning of a course to know how best to turn in work that they will appreciate.
  • Help them create goals. There is no greater gift that you can give them giving students a road map to making their dreams become reality.
  • Play educational games. Some simulation games provide students wiht a real depth of understanding. Interact has an awesome line up of simulations throughout the curriculum. Even though something might be listed as for Middle School, it can still be used in the upper grade.

In the end, motivating Seniors is more about changing your teaching style to keep their interest. This is not say that you have to be an 'entertainer' but if you want to make the last months of school enjoyable each year, try one or more of these strategies and see what happens. Good Luck!

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