Slacking in the spring: How seniors slump

Slacking+in+the+spring%3A+How+seniors+slump

Liliana Greyf and Sean Lee

After students returned from spring break this year, seniors began their annual “slump,” spending less time on their schoolwork and detaching from their obligations. “Four years [of high school] is half a year too long,” Garrett Hah (12) said.

“Students exert an enormous amount of energy to succeed at this school, and at a certain point, they’re really tired,” Head of Upper Division Dr. Jessica Levenstein said. “Then they do a cost-benefit analysis, and they realize that they’ve already achieved what they’re hoping to achieve. [There is] a sense that they have been working at a very, very intense pace for three and three-quarters years and don’t have any more gas in the tank.”

The Common Application deadline is in January, meaning that the grades seniors receive in their second semesters are not generally sent to colleges. Hah feels that he can do slightly less work at the end of the year because his grades no longer impact his future, he said. “[There is] definitely a total 180 in attitude change.”

Although the quality of many seniors’ work decreases, most students still choose to hand their assessments in, Dean of the Class of 2021 Dr. Susan Groppi said. In a minority of cases, a student’s grades will drop so dramatically that the school must get involved. In these cases, deans and administrators must send academic reports to parents to ensure that the student submits their unfinished work, she said.

When students choose to not hand in their work, it is often a result of perfectionism, Levenstein said. Students want to do less work but are afraid of turning in assignments that are not the best they could be, so they choose not to hand them in at all. “Total avoidance of work creates a messy dynamic for both students and teachers,” she said.

However, as long as students continue to participate in the school community and engage with their teachers, “senior slumping” is normal and justifiable, Groppi said. “Show up for the test, write the paper — it doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be even good.”

In fact, handing in work that is not flawless can be seen as an opportunity for growth, Levenstein said. “I would love to see seniors grow a little more comfortable with simply handing in something that might not be the best thing they ever wrote but that is complete,” she said. “That’s a healthier way to approach that moment of exhaustion than avoidance.”

When college decisions begin coming out, many students feel like they have finished all they can accomplish at the school, Levenstein said. 

“There tends to be an overemphasis on grades and college acceptances for kids these days, so when the college process is over and all the applications are in, the grades no longer ‘matter,’” English teacher Dr. Andrew Fippinger said. “It really shows that for some students, the incredible education they are getting at their four years of Horace Mann is not what they see as most important.”

Still, Fippinger understands that this mindset is caused by the values instilled in students at a young age. “It’s not really that I blame the seniors for slumping,” he said. “It’s more that I wish we could address the issues of stress and pressure and overemphasis on the college process that lead up to that.”

Groppi said that most students do their school work because they truly want to learn, not solely to get into college. “[College] is not the only thing pushing them to do better, but it is one thing, and once that piece has been lifted, then they can see what their actual motivation is,” she said. 

Although Abigail Morse (12) has noticed her peers beginning to do less work, she has maintained her constant work ethic throughout the entire year. “I don’t think I ever figured out how to ‘senior slump,’” she said. Morse has spent her high school career focused on her school work because she truly cares about learning, not because she worries about the grades that will earn her admissions into college. After she submitted her applications, nothing about her mindset changed, she said.

However, Morse has noticed that it has recently taken her longer to finish assignments because she is tired from the work she has done leading up to this moment, she said.

Fippinger has observed that a large portion of seniors choose to do less work because they are exhausted from their time at the school, he said. “The kind of senior slumping that makes me sad is the burnout and cynicism that comes from having made it through this gauntlet of almost four years of school.”

The unprecedented nature of this year has increased the feeling of burnout that some students are experiencing, Madhav Menon (12) said. “A lot of people in our grade — just because a lot of their experiences in the pandemic and how challenging this year was — are very tired, and the fact of being tired really adds to everything.”

Levenstein, on the other hand, has not noticed any difference in “slumping” between this year and years prior, she said. Students are exhibiting the same level of exhaustion and neglect of work as they routinely have in the past.

Alexis Fry (12) used to be able to stay awake until three in the morning to study for a test, but now she does not have the energy to go to bed later than midnight. “It’s just my body responding to the stress levels going down,” she said. 

Fry has not allowed herself to slump enough that her grades drop, but she takes more time to relax than she has in the past. “I don’t even like going to the second floor of the library,” she said. “Last year, I would be up there all the time.”

Although many seniors feel less pressure at the end of the year, each student decides individually whether or not they want to slump, Levenstein said. There are various reasons why some seniors may choose to hold themselves to a lower standard while others choose to keep working at the same pace.

Hah found himself relaxing in regards to academics when he returned to school because of a lack of motivation to finish his assignments. “You kind of flip a switch after that point,” he said. 

In past years, Hah would spend free periods ensuring he was prepared for assessments. Now, even if he has a test coming up on the same day, he chooses to relax with his friends. 

Besides socializing at school, Leyli Granmayeh (12) said her “senior slump” has included seeing her friends more often outside of school. “I don’t ever think earlier in high school, I would’ve hung out with a friend during the week because I would have just assumed I had work,” she said. However, during the spring, Granmayeh has made an effort to see more of her friends after school.

Recent vaccinations have also caused seniors to neglect their work more frequently, Granmayeh said. “People have spent so much of this year indoors, not just because of work but because it wasn’t safe to be with people,” Granmayeh said. “Now that there are safe ways you can interact with others and it’s okay to have events outside, it has made the slumping worse because there are actively things to do.”

Because teachers understand that seniors tend to be less enthusiastic about work towards the end of the year, many decide to change their curriculum, Levenstein said. “They’re familiar with the difficulty in asking students to achieve at the same level that they’ve been achieving, so experienced teachers of seniors tend to try to get to the fun stuff or something unusual or collaborative or experiential at the end of the year.”

While Fry believes that some of her teachers have lowered their expectations for her class, others announced at the start of the semester that they knew the “slump” would occur — and that they would not tolerate it.

Granmayeh has found that while her workload has not decreased, teachers have shifted the type of assignments that seniors are doing. In her English class, seniors read a book of their choice and then give a presentation on it. “[Teachers] have adapted the work in a way that, at least for me, has been very productive and helpful,” she said. “I don’t know if I would have the motivation to sit down for five hours and study for a test, [but] a project feels a lot more manageable, and that shift has made it a lot easier to keep up with my work.”

In his Math Seminar class, Menon has spent time in class working on a project that would usually be assigned solely for homework. His teacher has stretched out the assignment over a longer period of time because he understands that his students are not able to be as engaged as they were in the first semester.

Morse has noticed her humanities teachers lower their workload towards the end of the year, but she is still being assigned a heavy workload in AP classes. Generally, she finds that her teachers have been accommodating the slumping that her classmates have been doing. “There’s always this moment where you’re just talking to your teacher — your whole class — and you’re just being completely transparent about how little work you’re doing,” she said. “Your teacher will totally get it, and they talk with you — they ask you what you want to do.”

Fippinger accommodates the students in his Detective Fiction Senior English Elective by lowering the amount of reading and analytical writing students must do. He has been teaching more lighthearted novels, but he finds that there are lessons to learn even from these books. “I use it as a sneaky way to talk about bigger issues through the lens of something more fun,” he said.

In class, Fippinger’s students watch the movie adaptations of the books they read earlier in the year, he said. Although they are still learning about the structure and narrative of this genre, they are also relaxing and enjoying themselves.