BY MOLLY SLOAN
In terms of academics, the spring semester is almost always much harder for students than the fall semester. The end of the year is approaching, and students find it much more difficult to focus on their classes. By spring, most students are used to their classes and they have begun to feel tedious. Because of this apathy toward academics, they are increasingly less likely to pay attention in class, turn assignments in, or even do well on tests. This academic burnout may look like laziness, but in reality, it’s a genuine concern for a staggering number of students. Seniors are especially vulnerable to burnout, and they often find that their final year of high school is among the most emotionally strenuous they have experienced.
This year’s seniors are perhaps even more likely than seniors in previous years to struggle with motivation. The majority of their high school experience has been affected by the pandemic, which started in March of their sophomore year. The chaos of the past two years has posed a major challenge to students’ motivation. The switch to online learning (and subsequent leniency on due dates and deadlines) encouraged students not to submit their assignments until the very last minute–and sometimes not at all. Students have had no constants in their lives for the past two years, which can be seen in their dying work ethic. After a certain point, they became unable to see the point to the work they were expected to complete. Truman senior Paige Gonzales knows this feeling all too well. “You’ve been promised an end goal, and are fed implications that academic achievement will yield accomplishment and satisfaction, but it’s never a realized feeling,” she said. “Burnout is when you realize the fruitlessness of your goals and often feel like you will never cross any kind of finish line and are constantly churning out work that feels meaningless.” There is always more work to be done, and if students are unable to keep up with it, it begins to pile up. This is the essence of burnout and what makes it so difficult to overcome: it is a truly vicious cycle that is easy for students to get trapped in.
There are a number of consequences that can come from a lack of motivation. In some cases, it results in a decrease in the quality of the student’s work. If a student doesn’t care about the material, they won’t pay attention, and their work won’t be their best. “Unless the content is something I see myself using in the future, or something that truly captures my attention, I no longer can motivate myself or feel inspired in my work anymore,” said Gonzales. “I struggle to complete assignments until the last minute when I know it has to be completed, and I definitely don’t put the kind of care into my assignments that I once did.” It’s an understandable struggle–the work assigned simply doesn’t feel meaningful, and students are no longer able to keep up with it. Sometimes, this decrease in quality of work can even lead to dropping grades, which can create a whole lot more stress in a student’s life. Senior Aiden Frisby agrees that the volume of assignments assigned can often be overwhelming, saying that burnout “results in a lot of late work being turned in, as lack of motivation is a recurring thing for me.”
Many of this year’s seniors believe the pandemic is to blame for many of their struggles with burnout, citing their junior year as the source of most of their loss of motivation. “I think junior year was my worst year for academic burnout,” said Frisby. The 2020-21 school year was the first time students were exposed to a radically different model of education, having to spend at least half of their time working from home, isolated from teachers and peers. Gonzales feels that students were held to higher standards than the rest of the world during the pandemic, and this has resulted in a lot of her burnout. “The pandemic has exponentially increased stress for myself and a bunch of my peers. The aspect of the pandemic that has hurt the most has been the expectation that students need to function just like normal, while the rest of the world has been given a lot more leniency,” she said. “It was especially stressful junior year when we were doing the combination of hybrid and in-person learning.” Even though virtual learning went hand-in-hand with a general leniency around due dates, students often felt like their mental health needs weren’t being attended to. The hybrid model implemented last year meant that a lot of students were completely at a loss for how to function in a normal capacity, and many gradually lost the ability to keep up with their schoolwork.
While academic burnout is still a very common theme amongst this year’s seniors (as it is for all high schoolers), the shift back towards a normal, in-person school environment has been promising. Frisby notes that for him, “while [burnout] is recurring, it’s gotten better.” School has returned to normal in a lot of aspects, and even this year’s seniors are trying to shake off the lingering side effects of the pandemic and stay on track with their work. They’ve even found ways to cope with their burnout and ensure they don’t fall behind too much. “I allow myself to take breaks when I need them, and I’ve really been working on fun assignments just as much as my more tedious work: I try and focus on the work I do find enjoyable, like speech & debate and choir,” said Gonzales. “Finding this balance helps me to have enough energy to push through my more basic work.” It’s all about motivation, but there are a lot of ways to find the drive to get through so many assignments. “The best way for me is to set aside time and power through it,” said Frisby. “The hardest part is starting.”
In truth, every student is different, and combating burnout can be extremely difficult. Some students find it easier to push themselves harder, and some might need to take the pressure off. Either way, there is always a way out. It’s important to focus on being kind to each other and understand the difficult circumstances everyone is facing. When all else fails, Gonzales encourages her fellow students to be kind to themselves. “I would definitely tell people to give themselves the grace they give other people!” she said. “Treat yourself and hold yourself to the same standards that you would your best friend.”