Last week, on a daily basis, my seniors counted down the days and minutes until the end of the semester. Daily they reminded me that school would cease to matter in 5, no 4, no 3 days and 100 minutes. Daily I reminded them that I begged to differ.
But I and they knew the truth. Second semester of senior year is something to be cherished. It is something to be glorified. They have worked and studied and waited, and now, today they will be rewarded. Well, yes and no. I will still hand them an article to read and annotate. I will still expect them to think and discuss and write and, yes, work. But the pressure is off.
Senioritis: I Have Watched these Seniors all Year
I await their smiles as they float, weightless, into my room, and we will start the class by breathing into this next phase of life. Because, in reality, for the last year and a half, many of them have been holding their breath.
I have watched as they filled out applications, took test after test, bubbling in the bubbles, checking and rechecking answers that grow more confusing the more they reread them, feeling their future weighing heavily on their shoulders, more heavy for the expectations of parents and teachers and administrators riding along.
Today, the boys will stretch out their long legs beneath desks that can barely contain them. They will lean back into their seats. The girls will smile and laugh just a bit more freely (always more contained than the boys who can not help but put it all out there, laughter too loud, but impossibly infectious), eyes glittering with the future in their view.
I always avoided teaching seniors because of this time of year. How would I keep them interested? How would I keep them engaged? As teachers, we crave the carrot on the end of the stick, but what is the carrot for teens with a case of full-blown senioritis? It is freedom. It is the world of adulthood. These are things I can not give them, and only seem to be making more elusive as I force them to sit in my classroom, and somehow be present for 48 minutes, when they could be sleeping.
What I have realized in the last two years of witnessing senioritis is that my expectations, as they usually are, were misguided. Yes, they are excited, and impatient, and ready, so ready for the next phase of their lives to begin. But many are also terrified, and nervous beyond any explanation, and ridden with anxieties as they gaze into the unknown.
Because until now, they have known what every minute of every day would hold. We have fed to them the routines that shape them. Each day follows a pattern much the same as the day before down to the minute. They respond to bells and alarms and ref’s whistles and alerts on their phones. They are trained to live in this world of understood patterns.
Next year is a world where alarms will ring only if set by them. Routines will change and parents may not be there to remind them of their obligations to classes and sports and clubs. They will oversleep and forget and miss due dates and have to address professors and deans themselves. And they are terrified of who they are, being somehow not enough to live this untethered life. Because no matter how much confidence we have instilled in them, there is a tiny part in their brains, that says they are somehow not ready, woefully unprepared.
So, in my class, we will talk about expectations. We will read about authentic experiences, and what it means to truly be in the moment. We will write about their prepackaged expectations of college life, and we will talk about the possible pitfalls of those expectations.
Because life is about what we think will happen paving the way for what will really happen. I will listen closely to them so that I can find the words behind the words revealing their anxieties, and I will speak to those with confidence and laughter, and I will let them know that they are prepared. They are enough. And if for some reason, they are not, there are protections in place, and homes and arms ready to offer them what they lack.
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Emily Genser is the mother of Abigail (10) and Josh (7) and a high school English teacher in West Hartford, Connecticut. She is passionate about both jobs and spends most of her time laughing. She has written for Grown and Flown, Huffington Post and other sites.