English Teachers & Professors Talk About Work-Life Balance

While many English majors may be tired of having people ask if they're going to be teachers, the stereotype is there for a reason—many English majors do want to become teachers! We know that teachers work incredibly hard, and we want to provide you with as much information as we can to help you make an informed decision about your career. We asked English teachers and professors what their work-life balance is like, and we received some excellent insight and information!

1. From Michelle Greco, Adjunct Professor and Freelance Copy Editor:

Goodness, most days, I don't feel like it's balanced! I don't have a typical day because my teaching schedule shifts depending on the day of the week. However, I do most of  my teaching in the mornings, which leaves afternoons and evenings open for rest, grading, and writing.

In a typical week, I'll focus on schoolwork and copyediting from Monday through Thursday. I usually have Fridays off and will use that day for errands, personal projects, or for any leftover work from the beginning of the week. I try to go to as many readings as I can, typically on weekends, to fill my creative well. Because I lead a freelance lifestyle, I have to be disciplined, relying heavily on my calendar and to-do lists to keep myself organized. Otherwise, I'd spend most of my time at home directionless and, probably, watching Netflix!

2. From Martha Cothron, Middle School Language Arts, Reading and Journalism Teacher:

My life might seem overwhelming to some but to me it’s just right. I'm a full time wife, mom, business owner, teacher, MBA student, mentor and volunteer. My day starts at 7am and ends around 11:30pm. I juggle my schedule with that of my husband, two kids, classwork for my MBA program, and foster parenting association I'm on the board for.

3. From Lorraine Hirakawa, Former English Teacher and Current Assistant Principal:

As an English teacher, I easily spent 9 hours a day at school, choosing to go in early for quiet prep time. After school, some days I would spend an hour working with students or two hours coaching the debate team. Typically, I would get home by 6, cook dinner, and spend the evening with my family before reading myself to sleep.

4. From Jasara Hines, AP English Literature and Associate Professor, Valencia College: Online Freshman Composition I and II:

Being a teacher requires significant work outside of work. Typically a teacher will have at least one small assignment to grade on a daily basis (that can sometimes equate to 100+ paragraphs or math problems, etc.). Obviously, this has to go home with the teacher. An English teacher can have this, plus essays and other lengthy assignments. I typically have essays to grade every weekend.

5. From Rachel Nenna, 5th Grade ELA/SS Teacher & Online English Adjunct Professor:

With teaching, my brain is never off. I am constantly trying to find better ways to do things. I come up with plans and then change them midway through a lesson. I often teach through experiences and life stories. I want my students to feel my passion for literature, not just see the passion. I am constantly on the go and am forever working on something, whether it is for my 5th grade students or my college students. I am also a mom of two and believe in getting my kids out there to experience their own experiences. My son is in jiu jitsu Monday through Thursday right after school, so I am hardly home during the week. I’m on Pinterest like most people are on Facebook, Twitter, etc. I am constantly connecting my daily life with my teachings. My students learn about the lesson through my daily life as well as my past life. My life is an open book, which I find makes my students trust in me more.

6. From Kate Miner, English/Language Arts Teacher & Department Coordinator:

If you ask my husband and children, I spend far more time with my school "family" than the one at home. I volunteer my time (and theirs) once a week for three hours in the evening to supervise our open-library time for students to come get help, work together, or use the wifi with their laptops. I also sponsor a club and serve on a few committees. I spend my evening hours grading, answering emails from parents and students about questions or concerns, and planning for the next days, weeks, or months. I attend curriculum meetings for the district after hours, as well as vertical team meetings with teachers from our feeder middle and elementary schools. However, on weekends, I give myself fully to my family (unless there's a school function for which I've volunteered). I've learned that I must try to get as much work done at work instead of bringing so much home. My sanity and my family are much more important than tomorrow's lesson plan's wow-factor.

7. From Tiffany MacBain, Associate Professor:

Work-life balance is very difficult to achieve for me, for the work in my profession expands to fill as much time as I allow it, and the work I do not do does not go away: it piles up. Because I am also the mother and primary caregiver of a young child, though, I have created boundaries where none existed before. For instance: except on rare occasions I do not email students or colleagues after 5pm or on weekends. On one weekend day, usually Sunday, I do no work. Perhaps one day I'll be able to say the same about the tother weekend day. This schedule suited me just fine when I was younger, but the truth is, it feels really uncomfortable these days. I would like, and I believe I would benefit from, more downtime.

My typical workday: Wake up early (between 5 and 7) and check email or read for class. With the help of my partner, care for my daughter and get her and me out the door. At work, finish prepping for my first class; teach; prep for my second class; teach; meet with students; deal with email; begin to prep for the next day's class or do some light grading. Go home. Make dinner; play with my daughter; go to sleep. On some days I have committee meetings thrown in there. Fridays and weekends I do the intensive grading. I spend some time every evening zoning out before bed, either online or with a crossword puzzle. I rarely read for pleasure, except during the summer.

8. From Allison Ryals, Middle School English Teacher:

I get up around 6:30, even though I set my alarm for 5:40. I get dressed and go to school. As soon as I walk in the building, there is usually something to do or someone that I need to talk to about curriculum or behavior problems. Students come in at 7:30 and begin reading their library books. At 8:00, we begin class. I have double-blocked classes, which mean students are with me for 90 minutes. We get a great deal of work done. I teach for the first half and students work in groups or on independent work for the second half. The days usually go pretty well, but sometimes teaching middle school is like stapling jello to a tree. I have meetings all week and parent conferences. I try to leave work by 4:00, but some days I do not leave until 6:00. I would like to think that I have a balance between work and my regular life, but I really do not. When I get home, I am exhausted and sometimes have activities to plan for the next day. I squeeze in dinner between my work things and grad school things. I try to do at least one fun thing on the weekend, but it usually ends up being sleeping in.

9. From Brett Ashmun, Full Time Graduate Student/Teaching Associate:

As a graduate student and teaching associate, my schedule may look a little different than most teachers. A typical week begins in a graduate class on Monday morning. After class I have an hour break then I teach freshman composition. Once I finish teaching, I hold office hours from three until five then it is time to head home and begin preparing for the rest of the week. On Tuesday (ah Tuesday), I am off all day. Any teacher knows that by “off all day” that doesn’t mean I am off, but it does mean I usually do not have any obligations that require a shower or a change out of my pajamas. Wednesday is my long day. I attend class in the morning, teach in the afternoon, hold office hours, and then attend a three-hour graduate class in the evening. Thursday is somewhat of a prep day. My only obligation is a three-hour graduate class in the evening. On Friday, I teach in the afternoon and hold an open conferencing/workshop for any writing students from three to five. While what I have mentioned are on the top of my list of priorities, I also have a book I’m trying to write, try to get published whenever possible, and deal with long phone calls from my mom and father-in-law. Lost in all of the busyness are my fiancée and my black Labrador. They truly keep me sane and are the best friends a man can ask for.

10. From Debrah Clark, Director/Teen Parent Educator:

There is no such thing as a typical work day, unless you consider the consistency of change and having to adapt on an hourly basis typical. Arrival to my office is the most peaceful time in the day. I grade, create, plan, reflect, and sometimes cry about the lack of resources teachers, students and families have. The teenagers arrive and the magic happens! I find that I teach the content less and the skills of being a human more. Role modeling and counseling sometimes take precedence over the daily plans. Caring for overwhelmed colleagues, data collection and processing, and professional development come next. I regularly reach out to the community for resources and guidance in this adventure. Teaching is an adventure. When I do go home, I struggle with shortchanging my own children due to my thoughts and concerns about my teenagers at school. I struggle with not being present enough at my own children's school due to the workload. I love this work, but it takes an emotional toll.

11. From Dr. Dana Key, Assistant Principal, University Adjunct Professor, and State Department of Education ACCESS teacher:

A typical teaching day would include 100-150 students in a high school setting with classes ranging from regular English to AP English or Literature. On a block schedule there are four classes a day, one of those would be a planning period. For the three classes of 90 minutes, there are blended classes with technology infused to the regular state mandated content to enrich and empower students. I am not a skill and drill teacher, so there are a lot of project-based learning opportunities, reading of required materials, and many writing assignments that help to polish writing skills. The planning period is used for meetings with departments, class level, and parent conferences; the remainder if any time remains is used for grading and planning; however, I usually have two or three hours daily that I work from home. There is never enough time to finish everything at school.

12. From Tina Bausinger, Professor of English:

I'm getting the hang of MOSTLY finishing work at work—though there are times I have to grade/plan on the weekends or after hours. I don't mind, really. It's true what they say about loving your job and feeling like you are never really working. I make a general lesson plan on Sundays, and fine tune it daily. A friend of mine who is also a teacher and I meet up for coffee and companionship. It's not unusual for one of us to ask advice of the other. Plus, coffee! Always my best friend. I teach five college level classes during the week (one English Comp I, three sections of English Comp 2, and one section of World Literature). I have ten hours a week (minimum) in the office, but I'm usually here early and I usually leave late. I try to grade all assignments as soon as possible.

13. From Alexia Brooks, Lecturer in First-Year Composition:

I only teach Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 8a-10a, so after I leave class, I head to my office on those days and prep, grade, and respond to student emails. I will typically stay on campus until 3p or 4p if I've had enough coffee that day to keep myself going. When I leave campus, though, I turn my email off. I let my students know about this on day one. I tell them that I will be available from 8a-4p on those three days, so they can email me or stop by my office to get clarification on something, but that when I go home, I unplug. I have found that this really helps me maintain a life outside of teaching. Now, sometimes I will have to stay later or keep my email on if we have a major assignment due, but for the most part, I try to maintain this boundary.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I don't teach, but I will turn my email on from 8a-4p to allow my students to communicate with me. On those days, I grade for a few hours, but I also run, write, and watch Netflix.

I typically work one day in the weekend, but I always try to have Sundays off from email and grading so I can recharge for the next week. It took me a while to stop feeling guilty about this, but I told myself that I am no good to my students if I'm overworked and stressed out.

14. Samantha Glassford, Adjunct English Instructor and Professional Writing Tutor

As an adjunct, there is rarely a day where I'm in only one place. I teach at three different colleges, and tutor in a writing center. Because I spend my day time teaching/tutoring, my nights are usually for grading and emails. If I have a busy week or a long paper due in a class, the grading typically spills over into the weekend. Sunday nights are usually for prepping lesson plans. I currently am not married and don't have kids, so I don't mind working all the time. Not only do I enjoy it, it keeps me busy.

If you are an English teacher or professor and would like to contribute your answers to this blog post, fill out this form!

Posted on May 3, 2015 and filed under Teaching, Articles, Featured Articles.