Winter Break as an English Teacher

I hear it often, and you do too. Winter Break (Christmas Break) approaches, and community members begin to envy the two weeks away from school that teachers have and the comments begin.

“It must be nice to have two weeks off.”

“What will you do with all of your free time?”

“Must be nice to get paid and not have to work.”

These comments frustrate me, but I do try and correct the misconception with my responses, which don’t need to explain in detail here; however, I did think a good idea would be to post what my “break” is like as an English teacher.

I time one set of the students’ papers to be due around this time because I have 150 students. Each paper averages about 15 minutes to read, mark, and evaluate, which means I have about 37.5 hours of grading time during the break. This is essentially an unpaid week of work (but, as most of you know, teachers are only paid for contracted days). This is the only time of year when I bring papers home to grade because I like to work the extra hours at the school before coming home in order to keep my work life and home life separate. 

I do take 2-4 days off for family time and decorating the house and such, and then it’s back to work. Some years my wife and I take a short trip outside of family time–we’re partial to Vegas–but this year we couldn’t swing it.

Then, it’s time to prepare for the return on January 2. Usually, I re-read one of the novels I’m teaching and prepare “Big Idea” questions (ideas that allow for full discussions and essays) for each section of the novel.

I typically start going to the school each day beginning on the 27th of December to make copies, clean and re-supply my classroom, update and change the bulletin boards, and post grades. I probably average 2-4 hours per day. 

Also, I like to take January 1 off, and I schedule time to watch my favorite college and pro football games. All in all, of the 17 days of the Winter Break, I usually work 12 of them. 

What type of hours do you keep over the holidays?

7 thoughts on “Winter Break as an English Teacher

  1. Ms. M

    I thought I was the only ONE! I just wrote a blog post about bringing home 3 projects for the break! I am not a high school teacher but still I do teach grade six gifted and I had 28 math projects (not tests…projects=12 pages each) and 28 social studies CHOICE projects (yes, I let them choose how to present their research) and 28 English legends assessment papers (their ability to write a legend in First Nations style). I am so glad to hear that there are others of us out there. I am like you, I try to keep work at work and not bring home much marking…but it HAS to get done sometime!
    Happy New Year and Cheers to insanity!

  2. Tracee Orman (@MrsOrman)

    Sad and true. My two stacks of papers are still waiting to be graded. I still have four finals to do when we get back because our last day before break was a snow day. Of course, grades will be due right after the finals, so I will be expected to read & grade the remaining 80+ papers by the following day. I find myself giving less feedback because of the lack of time. I honestly do not know how English teachers can do this their entire careers. I’m burned out after only 15 years of this. Thanks for posting this so we know we are not alone. My husband teaches social studies and somehow gets all his grading done at school and never brings a single paper home.

    1. Kristin Zheng

      Wow. So similar to my break. Even after “catching up” on the bulk of my grading, I still feel as if I’m drowning in mid-terms, end-of-semester projects, and school-mandated critical analysis tests. Many congratulations to you for completing 15+ years; I’m so glad there are other, more seasoned, teachers willing to share tips and frustrations. Plus, my husband also teaches history (same school!) and rarely has more than 30 minutes of work at home a day. It takes all that’s within me not to rage in jealousy. 🙂

  3. ron

    What winter break … Were expected to be on call 24/ 7; work 12 hour shifts 7 days a week and work both Christmas and New Years day … so cry me a story will you.

  4. Kim

    When someone tells me teachers get their summer off I tell them I work my summers . . . during the school year! Major burnout time here . . . not looking forward to the remainder of the week!


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