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BCTF Research Report

Section III

"I love teaching English, but...."
A study of the workload of English teachers
in B.C. secondary grades

September, 2001

Charlie Naylor, BCTF Research
John Malcolmson


Executive Summary
Section 1: Who are the secondary English teachers of B.C.?
  1. Age
  2. Gender and FTE status
  3. Geographic location
  4. Educational level
  5. Years of teaching experience
  6. Years of teaching English
  7. School type
  8. Timetables used
  9. Percentage of time teaching English
Section 2: Courses taught, class sizes, and class composition
  1. Courses taught
  2. Class sizes
  3. Class composition
  4. Changes in class composition over time
Section 3: The organization and allocation of secondary English teachers’ work time
  1. Marking
  2. Preparation time
  3. Meetings, paperwork, and other administrative tasks
  4. Providing tutorials
  5. Participation in students’ extra-curricular activities
Section 4: Changes over time, and the nature of English teaching today
  1. Perceived changes in teaching English over time
  2. The nature of English teaching today
Section 5: Stress and coping strategies
  1. Stress and its effects on teachers’ personal lives
  2. Teaching/school-related strategies to manage workload pressures and reduce stress
  3. Conditions required to improve the work of teaching English
Section 6: Discussion and recommendations
Appendix: English Teaching Workload Survey Questionnaire

Executive Summary

Nature and methodology of the study

The study emerged out of a British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) Annual General Meeting resolution in 1999 to study the workload of secondary English teachers in the province. In the fall of 2000 and spring of 2001, a questionnaire survey was developed to gather data regarding the nature and extent of teacher workload, as well as teacher perceptions of workload-related stress and their ability to cope with this stress.

The survey was distributed to secondary schools throughout the province. A total of 737 completed surveys were returned. Those surveyed show a demographic profile broadly similar to that of the entire B.C. teacher force, although the following three demographic differences did emerge.

  1. In terms of age, survey respondents reflect fewer middle-aged to older secondary English teachers (aged 40 years and over) as compared to the provincial profile.
  2. Secondary English teachers are less likely to work part-time as compared with teachers overall.
  3. Secondary English teachers have a significantly higher percentage of people with post-graduate university degrees as compared with the provincial pattern for all teachers.

Major findings

The study shows that:

  1. Secondary English teachers work long hours, with an average work-week of more than 53 hours. There is also the real likelihood that this figure underestimates the true extent of work because, for example, it does not include any time spent in marking or preparation when school classes are not in session. Teachers also traditionally appear to underestimate work hours in survey returns, compared to diary time-use studies.
  2. The long hours of secondary English teachers are driven primarily by preparation and marking needs, which together account for more than 19 hours of an average teacher’s work week — about two-thirds of reported non-contact time spent on the job.
  3. Secondary English teachers report on balance that workload levels have increased in recent years.
  4. School organization plays a major role in determining teacher perceptions of workload, with semester-based schools showing the highest levels of dissatisfaction in areas like the organization of preparation time.
  5. Secondary English teachers report high and increasing numbers of ESL students and students with special needs in their classes, and more than double the numbers of such students than are recognized as such by the Ministry of Education.
  6. Secondary English teachers report that they adjust their methods of teaching to cope with the workload pressures. Such adjustments are driven therefore by workload coping-requirements rather than by pedagogical factors or criteria.
  7. Secondary English teachers report widespread symptoms of stress and varying abilities to cope with stress. Both age and gender appear to be relevant variables in how stress and coping ability are perceived, with female and younger teachers reporting both the worst impacts and lesser coping ability.
  8. The report’s findings point to a serious incipient problem with secondary English teacher attrition. Many teachers surveyed signal an intention to seek other teaching assignments or to leave teaching altogether because of the inordinate workload created by relentless marking pressures and other time demands. When examined together with age and stress-related data, these findings suggest the possibility that significant numbers of middle-aged, middle-career teachers are leaving secondary English for other work venues, owing to workload demands and related stress.
  9. Unless redressed in a real and serious way, the workload of secondary English teachers and the resultant attrition of teachers will likely continue to exacerbate trends pointing towards a shortage of teachers in the near future.

"I love teaching English, but the onerous nature of the marking and the challenge of dealing with developing good writing skills have resulted in my requesting to teach Elective courses."

"I love teaching English, but feel overburdened and stressed by my workload."

"I love teaching English, and I am considered an exemplary one at my school. But I can’t sustain it.... I am pursuing a position in another subject area, one that I am retraining for. Teaching English has become an inhuman task for me. I wish for a fuller, more balanced life."

"I love teaching and I love teaching English, but without a year-long spare, I dread the job."

"I love literature and I try to be an enthusiastic teacher, but I regret ever going into this field because I have sacrificed many personal relationships and good health."


The authors of this report wish to thank all the English Department Heads who kindly distributed survey instruments to English teachers in their schools.

Thanks also to the four Coquitlam English teachers (Avril Chalmers, Tina Grabenhorst, Brenda McNeil, and Wendy Vitter) who shared their knowledge and understanding of teaching secondary English in B.C.’s schools. Their advice was crucial in developing the survey instrument and in generating deeper understanding of the data which has helped us to complete this report.

The Coquitlam Teachers’ Association kindly provided meeting space for the planning committee of Coquitlam teachers and BCTF staff.

Thanks also to the B.C. Teachers of English and Language Arts Provincial Specialist Association for their support and encouragement during this project.

Finally, our thanks are due to all the secondary English teachers who added to their workload by taking time to complete the survey. We hope that our report respects your input, reflects the reality of secondary English teaching, and offers constructive proposals for ameliorating those areas where workload is excessive.


The issue of workload has grown as a focus of concern for teachers in recent years. At the 2000 Annual General Meeting of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), this concern was reflected in a Resolution from the Coquitlam chapter of the English/Language Arts Provincial Specialist Association (PSA). Resolution 109 called for a provincial survey of class size, class composition, and workload issues for secondary English teachers and was adopted by the Annual General Meeting. Subsequently, BCTF researcher Charlie Naylor working with consultant John Malcolmson met with members of the Coquitlam PSA chapter and developed a survey instrument to collect data on English teachers’ work and on their perceptions of workload factors and related issues (see Appendix). The survey was distributed to secondary and middle-school English Department Heads in all but the smallest schools in the province.

A total of 737 completed surveys were returned by teachers in 53 school districts. It is difficult to estimate the precise response rate for two reasons. First, the distribution of the surveys depended on surveys being passed from English Department Heads to members of their departments. Judging by the number of responses, Department Heads did indeed pass the survey on to teachers in their departments, yet there is no way of knowing precisely how many surveys were disseminated or how many potential respondents there are. Secondly, there have been no provincial data kept on the numbers of secondary teachers by subject area since the Data Management Branch of the Ministry of Education ended this category of data collection five years ago.

In spite of these problems, the survey response rate can be tentatively estimated at above 30 per cent. This figure is based on an estimate of the total number of English teachers derived from counting the numbers teaching English in a small sample of schools, calculating a ratio of one English teacher per 100 secondary/middle-grade students, and extrapolating a provincial total from this count. While there is an obvious element of estimation built in to this approach, it offers a reasonable approximation of the survey’s response percentage.

SECTION 1: Who are the secondary English teachers of B.C.?

1. Age

The following table offers a detailed age breakdown for those returning completed surveys, compared with that of B.C.’s overall teacher force.

Table 1: Age Distribution of Survey Respondents Compared to the Provincial Profile

Survey Variance
from Profile
Under 30 14.8% 9.4% +5.4%
30-39 Years 32.6% 23.6% +9.0%
40-49 Years 21.1% 33.2% -12.1%
50 and Over Years 31.6% 33.7% -2.1%

Secondary English teachers appear to be somewhat younger than the general teaching population. Over 47 per cent of survey respondents are under age 40, compared to 33 per cent provincially. The age breakdown of respondents points to two age brackets that together comprise almost two-thirds of English teachers, the first group in its 30s and the second in its 50s. The latter group is the only age group where respondents’ age distribution matches the larger provincial age profile. Of particular interest in the profile of overall returned surveys is the smaller percentage of teachers aged 40–49 years.

2. Gender and FTE status

Table 2: Gender and FTE Status of Survey Respondents (provincial profile in brackets)

as % Total
as % Total
Male 34.1%
Female 65.9%
Overall   84.0%

The above table shows the survey’s gender and FTE status breakdown compared again to provincial profiles.

The above table illustrates that, for the most part, the gender profile of respondents closely matches the provincial profile. However, a few additional points can be made.

  • Proportionately more teachers in the province work part-time than do English teachers, or, conversely, proportionately more English teachers work full-time than is reflected in the provincial profile.
  • Proportionately more women respondents worked full-time than do women teachers generally, although women teachers of English appeared two-and-a-half times more likely to work part-time than do male English teachers.
  • Those secondary English teachers working part-time typically work 0.75 FTE or more.

The gender distribution of English teachers varies considerably with age. The older the age group, the more male teachers it has as a percentage of the total within that age group. The following chart looks at the pattern of gender distribution by 10-year age groups.

Table 3: Gender Distribution of English Teachers by Age Group


As can be seen, English teachers aged in their twenties are most likely to be female — by close to a four-to-one margin. Gender distribution changes steadily as teachers get older. By the time English teachers reach their fifties and sixties, the overall gender distribution is much closer to parity.

English teachers are also more likely to work at or near full-time status with the advancement of age, but here the increase in percentage is relatively slight. The next chart looks at the weighted average FTE status by age group.

Teachers in their 20s work at an average 95 per cent FTE level. This level rises gradually with the age of teachers. For the smaller group of English teachers in their 60s, all reported working full-time.

Table 4: FTE Status by Age Group


3. Geographic location

Survey respondents came from all areas of the province. In order to test how closely the geographic distribution of survey respondents matched that of the provincial secondary teacher population overall, respondents’ demographic data from three regional areas were compared with the general teacher distribution in the same areas. These areas were the lower mainland, Vancouver Island including the Gulf Islands, and the rest of B.C.2

Close to 53 per cent of respondents to the survey worked in lower mainland school districts (defined here to include districts 33 through 45). This compares to 51 per cent of the province’s educators who work in the same districts. Respondents from Vancouver Island represented 15 per cent of the total respondents, while 16 per cent of all educators in the province work there. Some 32 per cent of respondents lived and worked elsewhere in the province, while 33 per cent of educators are to be found here. The survey data therefore appear to closely match the overall geographic distribution of secondary teachers.

4. Educational level

Respondents were asked to indicate their highest level of university education. The next table shows the breakdown.

The data show seven of 10 English teachers reporting a bachelors-level of educational qualification. Overall 27.2 per cent report some level of graduate degree, whether Masters or Doctorate. Although the Ministry of Education does not publish statistics relating to educational qualification of the province’s educators, it is highly likely that the percentage of secondary English teachers holding graduate degrees is significantly higher than the percentage for the entire teacher force.3 Almost exactly half of respondents indicated they had pursued educational upgrading relevant to their current work. The types of courses and programs listed varied considerably and included partial degree requirements, individual courses, diplomas, certificates and other kinds of specialized training.

Table 5: Highest Educational Level of Survey Respondents


What is your highest
level of university education?
Level Teacher Count % of Total
Bachelors 512 70.1%
Masters 195 26.7%
Doctorate 4 0.5%
Other 19 2.6%

5. Years of teaching experience

The survey gathered information on experience levels of secondary English teachers. The following table summarizes the pattern of responses and compares it with the provincial teacher profile.4

Table 6: Teaching Experience of Survey Respondents

Group (Years)
from Profile
Less than One 0.7% 3.0% -2.3%
One to Four 18.0% 18.2% -.02%
Five to Nine 24.1% 20.5% +3.6%
Ten to Nineteen 25.2% 29.3% -4.1%
Twenty and Over 31.9% 29.0% +2.9%

The data show a smaller number of new teachers — those with less than a year of experience or, in other words, within their first year of teaching. For the next category (1–4 years), survey respondents matched the provincial profile fairly closely, and in the "Five to Nine" year Group, respondents exceed the profile by a substantial amount. In the "Ten to Twenty" year Group, the relationship is reversed while for teachers with over 20 year of experience the survey group once again exceeded the provincial profile.

The data may indicate that relatively few new teachers appear to start their careers teaching English. An alternate explanation might be that smaller numbers of new teachers returned surveys. At the other end of the spectrum, there is a larger group of teachers who stay with teaching English in the latter part of their careers. In between, there could be an attrition of English teachers within the "Ten to Nineteen" year Group. Just what this indicates — burnout, migration to other teaching responsibilities, or to other lines of work — is clearly open to speculation.

6. Years of teaching English

The survey also gathered information on years of teaching experience in English as well as in the current school. While there are no provincial data for the latter area, the survey data do point to some important patterns.

Table 7: Years Teaching English and Teaching Within Current School, Survey Respondents

Teaching English
Years Teaching In
Current School
Less than 5 years 30.3% 46.7%
6-10 years 24.4% 27.7%
11-20 years 23.6% 17.6%
More than 20 years 21.7% 7.9%

It is useful to compare the overall experience level of respondents with that of all teachers.5 Ministry of Education data is, however, framed in terms of years of experience within B.C., while the survey solicited the total teaching experience of respondents. Nonetheless, even allowing for this difference, it appears that respondents to this survey who were teachers with more than 20 years of experience may reflect the provincial average of teaching experience. However, substantially more of the respondents to this survey appear to have fewer years of teaching experience than is common in the teaching population.

Taken with the data on respondents’ ages, it appears that secondary English teachers have both a substantial group of older experienced educators as well as a substantial number of younger and less-experienced teachers — more than is the norm for teachers as a whole. Such a tentative demographic breakdown may point to an internal stratification of secondary English teachers along age lines. For this reason, it will be important to examine various other aspects of the survey responses in light of this particular breakdown.

7. School type

The following table examines the distribution of survey respondents by school type against the overall provincial pattern.

Table 8: School Type, Survey Schools and Provincial Profile

School Type Respondents Provincial
Middle 3.3% N/A
Junior Secondary 7.5% 18%
Secondary 76.9% 78%
Senior secondary 12.1% 4%

Ministry Standard Report information does not as yet include a "Middle School" designation, making comparisons with that school type problematic. It appears that the numbers of survey respondents’ who work in schools with a "secondary" designation closely match the provincial profile, while the survey received a higher proportion of responses from senior secondary English teachers than might be expected from the provincial data.6

8. Timetables used

There appears to be a significant discrepancy between the prevalence of timetable systems used across the province’s secondary schools and the timetables used in the schools of respondents. Substantially fewer responses were received from schools with linear systems, and substantially more from schools with semester systems than might be expected from the provincial profile.7 The following table provides the comparison.

Table 9: Distribution of Respondents by Timetable Used

Timetable Used
Provincial Secondary
School Organization
Variance from
Provincial Profile
10-month linear 32.1% 47.0% -14.9%
Combination linear/semester 22.6% 17.3% -5.3%
Semester/Trimester 40.6% 23.8% +16.8%
Quarter/Copernican 3.7% 3.3% +0.4%
Other 1.0% 8.6% -7.6%

The data in the table indicate "Semester" and "Linear" systems as most prevalent in schools teaching secondary English. Together with the "Combination" timetables, these schools account for over 95 per cent of respondents’ schools. For the province as a whole, these three categories account for 88 per cent of all secondary schools.

There were a high number of survey returns from English teachers in semester timetable systems, and these returns reflected a theme of some dissatisfaction with the availability and spacing of preparation time in such systems. As is indicated in the later discussion of stress symptoms, a significant number of English teachers see use of the semester timetable system as exacerbating their workload and resultant stress.

9. Percentage of time teaching English

Teachers were also asked to provide information on the percentage of teaching load that is secondary English. The following table shows the distribution of responses.

Table 10: Percentage of Respondents’ Teaching Load that is Secondary English

Teaching Load Range
(% of Total Load)
% of Survey
20% or less 5.6%
21 to 40% 10.2%
41 to 60% 15.8%
61 to 80% 16.5%
Over 80% 51.9%

As can be seen, a majority of survey respondents have secondary English comprising in excess of 80 per cent of their total teaching load. Indeed, over 43 per cent taught English at least 90 per cent of their total teaching time.

Respondents indicated a tendency to teach more secondary English as they grew older. As the next table shows, English teachers in their twenties and thirties taught English on average on the lower end of the "61–70%" of total time band. This figure rose to the lower end of the "71–80%" total time band for teachers in their 50s and 60s.

Table 11: Percentage of Secondary English Teaching Load by Age Group

Age Group

Percentage Band
Relative Position
within % Band
20s 61-70% Lower
30s 61-70% Lower
40s 61-70% Middle
50s 71-80% Lower
60s 71-80% Lower

The following table shows the distribution of survey respondents by number of hours of weekly English classroom time.

Table 12: Percentage Distribution of Respondents by Weekly Hours of English Teaching


The data indicate that the largest percentage clusters occur between the 12 and 25 hours levels where two-thirds of survey respondents are found. The tallest bars in the chart occur at the 20 and 25 hour levels which together account for just under one fifth of all secondary English teachers covered by the survey.

SECTION 2: Courses taught, class sizes, and class composition

Respondents were asked to list all courses taught which fitted within the English Department, the grade levels of those classes, and the total number of students in each class. Numbers of English as a Second Language students and students with special needs for each class were also requested, both in terms of those in each category who were officially designated in both categories, and in terms of those whom the respondent considered to be legitimately within the English as a Second Language or "special needs" categories, but who were not officially designated. Numbers of those students designated as "Gifted" were also requested.

While respondents listed 16 Language Arts courses taught in total, 78% taught English courses, with Communications, Humanities and English Literature the three most commonly-taught Language Arts classes other than English.

1. Courses taught

The following table shows average reported class size by type of course. Course types are listed in descending order of frequency.

Table 13: English Course Type and Average Class Sizes by Type of Secondary English Class

English Course
Number of Classes
% of Total
Classes Reported
Class Size
English 2,327 78.0% 26.3
Communications 169 5.7% 18.7
Humanities 129 4.3% 28.1
English Literature 81 2.7% 20.8
Writing 67 2.2% 20.2
Other English 62 2.1% 19.5
Honour English 32 1.1% 23.8
Advanced Placement 26 0.9% 21.0
Journalism 22 0.7% 16.8
Enriched English 17 0.6% 21.1
International Baccalaureate 16 0.5% 25.8
Modified English 8 0.3% 16.4
Pre-International Baccalaureate 8 0.3% 25.0
Technical Professional Comm. 5 0.2% 17.0
Composition 5 0.2% 27.8
Adapted English 5 0.2% 19.0
Total Classes 2,982    

As is evident from the table, close to four of five classes covered in the survey were standard English classes. The remaining one-fifth carried some form of other designation.

2. Class sizes

The next table looks at survey results in the area of reported class size.

Table 14: Average Class Size, Classes Reporting and Respondents, by Grade

Class Size
Number of
English Classes
% of Survey
Respondents Reporting
Teaching this Grade
8 26.0 417 35.7%
9 26.2 450 39.5%
10 26.2 528 44.6%
11 25.3 663 52.5%
12 24.8 779 48.3%
Overall Average 25.6    

While average class sizes appear to fall within collective agreement norms, it is apparent that the average size of reported classes falls with the increase in grade level. Next is the distribution of reported classes by grade and class-size range.

Table 15: Distribution of Reported Class Size Frequency by Size Groups

Grade Number of Reported Classes by Student Size Groups
10 or less
Over 30
8 15 10 38 134 237 17
9 33 7 44 119 247 34
10 24 21 44 151 281 48
11 39 26 68 193 323 50
12 45 48 112 218 328 42
Total Classes 156 112 306 815 1,416 191
% of Total Classes 5.2% 3.7% 10.2% 27.2% 47.3% 6.4%

Close to half of all reported classes fall within the 26-30 student size range. While a similar percentage are smaller than this, it is important to note than over six per cent of secondary English classes fall above this size range. It is possible that some of these exceed class-size limits in collective agreements.

3. Class composition

The survey also asked respondents to report numbers of English as a Second Language and Special Needs students, both those designated by the Ministry of Education as well as non-designated students — those who in the judgment of the teacher were either ESL or Special Needs but were not officially designated as such. The next table looks at reported English as a Second Language composition data.

Table 16: Average English as a Second Language Students, Designated and
Non- Designated, by Grade Level

Average ESL
Students per Class
Average ESL Students
per Class
ESL Students
8 1.1 1.7 2.8
9 1.3 1.5 2.8
10 1.5 2.5 4.0
11 2.3 3.1 5.4
12 1.8 3.4 5.2
Average 1.7 2.5 4.2

The numbers of designated students within the English as a Second Language categories appear within the norms of many collective agreements. What may be of greater concern, however, are the numbers of non-designated students reported by respondents. While the data indicate an average of 1.7 ESL students who are designated, the total impact on teacher workload is significantly greater when "Non-designated" students are factored in. All told, survey respondents counted one and a half times as many "Non-Designated" as "Designated" ESL students. Consequently, when the latter are included, the total number of teacher-reported English as a Second Language students rises to 4.2 on average per class, nine per cent of the total number of students in an average secondary English class.

The following table looks at reported information regarding students with special needs within secondary English classes.

Table 17: Average Students with Special Needs, Designated and Non-Designated,
by Grade Level

Average Special
Needs per Class
Average Special
Needs per Class
Total Reported
Special Needs
8 3.2 2.4 5.6
9 2.1 1.7 3.8
10 1.7 1.7 3.4
11 1.3 1.8 3.1
12 1.2 1.5 2.7
Average 1.9 1.8 3.6

Here the number of "Non-Designated" students is roughly equivalent to the number of "Designated" students. When both categories are added together, the average secondary English class appears to contain double the number of special needs students officially recognized by the Ministry of Education.

The survey also gathered information on reported numbers of "Gifted" students within secondary English classes. The following table shows the average reported incidence by grade level.

Table 18: Average Gifted Students, by Grade Level

Average of
Gifted Per Class
8 1.6
9 1.6
10 1.5
11 1.7
12 1.9
Average 1.6

The data show a slight tendency for the number of gifted students to rise with the increase in grade levels. On average, secondary English teachers identify 1.6 such students in each class.

The prevalence of ESL students in English classes increases with grade level, while the reverse is true for the prevalence of students with special needs, with less than half the numbers reported at Grade 12 than in Grade 8. Combining the ESL and special needs numbers reported shows respondents indicating between 25.2% (Grade 9) and 33.6% (Grade 11) of their students were either ESL or having special needs. The average class included 30.5% of students in these categories.

Analysis of qualitative data gathered by the survey identifies class composition, and specifically the numbers of students who are either English as a Second Language or have special needs, as an issue of concern for secondary English teachers. In some cases, respondents note the increased time and demands of working with such students, the need to adapt curriculum, or mention reduced district support for English as a Second Language students and/or students with special needs, resulting in greater workload for classroom teachers:

"In a lot of cases the curriculum is adapted/modified to meet the needs of these (special needs) students. While my particular school has good support for these students, there is considerable work involved in order to provide these kids with a suitable program."

"As higher numbers of ESL students enter regular classes, teachers must spend more tutorial time to upgrade these students. This time demand, when combined with adapting curriculum, places much more stress on teachers."

"I am a well qualified and experienced ESL teacher. My district is reducing and reorganizing (eliminating) portions of the district program that I teach in my school. If this program is disbanded, ESL students will be integrated with minimal support into regular classes — to their and the teachers’ disadvantage."

"Integration means that English classes are far more challenging and frustrating to teach; difference in capabilities within a class is huge."

"(There is) a high percentage of students with learning/behavioural problems who are not officially special needs students but need a lot of extra attention and alternate materials."

4. Changes in class composition over time

The following table looks at teacher perceptions of changes in the size of their secondary English classes over the past five years.

Table 19: Changes in Class Size Compared with Five Years Ago


In the last five years,
have class sizes generally
decreased, increased,
or stayed the same?
Number of
% of
Considerably Smaller 1 0.2%
Somewhat Smaller 32 5.0%
Same 375 58.3%
Somewhat Larger 213 33.1%
Considerably Larger 22 3.4%
Total Responses   643  

As the table indicates, a little over five per cent of respondents reported lower class sizes compared to five years ago, 58.3 per cent reported unchanged class size, and 37.5 per cent reported increases, whether "somewhat" or "considerable". While an identical percentage reported an increase in designated English as a Second Language students over a three-year period, a substantially greater number of respondents (56 per cent) cited increased numbers of non-designated English as a Second Language students. Over the same period, 54 per cent of respondents reported increased numbers of designated students with special needs over the last five years, while over two-thirds reported more non-designated students with special needs over the same period.

Table 20: Class Composition Compared with Five Years Ago, Percentage of Respondents

In the last five
years, how has class
composition changed,
on average?
Special Needs
Special Needs
Increased 37.8% 56.0% 53.9% 67.1%
Stayed the Same 48.1% 40.3% 39.9% 30.9%
Decreased 14.1% 3.7% 6.2% 2.0%

With the exception of "Designated ESL", significant majorities of teacher respondents indicate an increase in the incidence of integrated special needs and English as a Second Language students into their classrooms. While anywhere from 30 to 50 per cent of respondents see things as having "stayed the same", very few teachers report a decrease in either English as a Second Language or Special Needs students in their classrooms.

Together the perception of increased class size and changed composition underline the view that English teachers’ workload has intensified. The combination of increased class size, and increased prevalence of limited English, or an exceptionality, during the last five years, suggest that workload demands faced by secondary English teachers have been impacted significantly by changing class size and composition.

Changes to provincial ESL policy may be a factor in the increased numbers of non-designated English as a Second Language students reported by English teachers. Provincial policy caps English as a Second Language service at five years, although the research clearly shows that such a period may be inadequate for the academic needs of many English as a Second Language students.8 If the province terminates ESL funding after five years service, there is no incentive for a school district to identify such students as ESL. It is also clear that proportionately more secondary than elementary English as a Second Language students will not be designated, as any ESL student funded for five years in grades K-7 will enter secondary schools and not be eligible for additional funded ESL support.

It can be argued that the consequences of capping limit the ability of secondary teachers to meet students’ needs. Without funding, there is less specialist ESL teacher support for classroom teachers. Less ESL specialist support means that each English teacher carries extra responsibility to adapt pedagogy or curriculum, or even to identify appropriate strategies for use with English as a Second Language students. Teaching mandatory academic English courses to students with limited English proficiency therefore becomes more difficult and complex, which adds to the workload of these teachers.

SECTION 3: The organization and allocation of secondary English teachers’ work time

Not all survey respondents held full-time teaching jobs. While about 84 per cent — about five of six respondents — reported working full-time, the balance indicated varying levels of part-time status. For the survey as a whole, the average FTE status of a respondent calculates out to 95.6 per cent.9 On average, the survey data shows that a full-time secondary English teacher spends 23.6 per week as contact time within the classroom.10 However, survey questions and responses allowed for the calculation of amounts of time spent weekly by English teachers on the other, non-contact components of their work. The following table provides a breakdown based on a typical or average FTE respondent.

Table 21: Average Weekly FTE Non-Contact Time Spent on Work-Related Tasks

Activity At School Evenings Weekends Total Time
Marking 3.5 4.3 3.7 11.5
Preparation 3.4 2.3 1.8 7.6
Meetings 1.6 0.3 0.0 2.0




Other administration 1.5 0.3 0.2 2.0
Other job-related 1.7 0.8 0.6 3.1
Total 13.7 8.8 7.0 29.5
% of Total 46.3% 30.0% 23.7%  

The table shows that, on average, a full-time secondary English teacher logs a total of 29.5 hours a week of non-contact time in a series of other activities integrally related to their teaching. Slightly less than half this additional time is spent at school with the balance occurring either during evenings or on weekends. Overall, however, the portion of time spent in contact with students is far surpassed by the non-contact hours devoted to tasks like marking, preparation, paperwork and meetings. Adding time devoted to these tasks to the average contact time yields an average total secondary English teacher work week of 53.1 hours. To gauge the full extent of this time commitment, some additional calculations are in order. In a school year that comprised 194 instructional days, a typical secondary English teacher would spend the equivalent of 38.8 annual weeks on the job (194 divided by five). If the average work week total of 53.1 hours is used, this teacher would log a total of 2,060 annual hours on the job (38.8 multiplied by 53.1). This latter amount is the equivalent of 54.9 weeks at 37.5 hours, almost three weeks more than there are in a full calendar year.

Put another way, if English teachers worked every one of a year’s 52 weeks, and took no statutory or other holidays, they would still be working an average of 39.6 hours each week.11 When looked at from the vantage point of calculations like these, the much-advertised holiday breaks that teachers routinely receive take on a different meaning — as vital recuperative periods within an annual work and time commitment that far exceeds the norm in other fields.

Only six per cent of respondents stated that the time spent in work-related tasks had decreased over the last five years. Four out of ten teachers indicated they spent "somewhat more" time in tasks other than direct teaching today as compared with five years ago. And 23.1 per cent said they spent "considerably more" time in such tasks now. Close to three of every four secondary English teachers therefore report some level of increase in the time taken by these tasks as compared with the recent past.

1. Marking

For many teachers of English, time spent in marking represents the single most significant factor contributing to increased workload. As the last table indicated, respondents report spending from eleven to twelve hours a week marking students’ work. In the area of the survey form geared to eliciting open-ended comments about work, more than twice as many of these comments were directed to the issue of excessive marking as were made about any other issue. The time spent is significant in itself, but the comments of respondents underline how the pressures of relentless marking are forcibly endured by English teachers in the field.

Three factors emerge as problematic in the context of teachers’ marking workload:

(1) The sheer quantity of marking is excessive and appears out of line with marking requirements in other subject areas. Excessive marking is taking a serious toll on English teachers, and some are opting out of teaching English.

"The marking is overwhelming, and I only teach English 50% of the time."

"I believe that it is crucial that the marking load for English teachers be taken into consideration. If we are expected to teach students to write, we need time to mark and to give feedback. Because the load is too heavy, I have opted to go part-time."

"3 of the 5 English teachers on my staff are suffering obvious signs of stress and burn-out. Many English teachers are opting for other courses where there is not such a high marking/prep load."

"Marking loads … make the teaching of English more onerous than any other course. There is a huge difference in workload within schools. Many teachers have little or no marking or prep, whereas English teachers, in particular, have hours of extra work each day without compensation in time or money."

"I need more time built in to the timetable for marking; as the ESL component increases so does time spent marking, but there just isn’t more time. I am extremely focused and disciplined regarding my mark load but this is at the expense of other areas of my life."

(2) The marking itself is highly demanding because it involves constant reading and assessment of student writing, and this often opens up other issues in students’ lives.

"… a block of ‘marking time’ would help tremendously. Teaching senior English classes is daunting at times, especially with the prospect of marking 56 essays. There simply isn’t time to give the necessary feedback to each student, plus the opportunity to give students the chance to rewrite assignments that were poorly written [or they] simply misunder[stood] the assignment."

"The marking load of an English teacher is huge! I find it impossible to do full-time English (I took on one non-academic course to reduce load). Also, many issues arise about students’ personal lives through writing, discussion, and this increases teacher stress."

"Teaching mostly senior English, I still have nightmares of the full days (no spares) with four classes of senior English followed by 4-5 hours of marking and then planning for the next day. In addition, I marked every Saturday night and planned every Sunday."

(3) The lack of recognition of English marking requirements and the inadequate time provided for English marking results in unacceptable levels of fatigue and exhaustion.

"As much as I love teaching English, it is very exhausting. More marking time would be great."

"Many teachers have little or no marking time, and English teachers in particular, have hours of extra work each day without compensation in time or pay."

"The marking load in English (especially senior English) is very high! I get sick every year at Christmas and spend the first two weeks in July in a near-catatonic state."

"For Mother’s Day several years ago, my daughter brought home a list of the top three things my mom loves to do. #1 on her list ‘My mother loves to mark papers.’ This was the day I decided to move to part-time."

2. Preparation time

Survey respondents were asked to indicate how much preparation time they were allocated within their schools. The term "allocated" is used very specifically in this context to refer to the amount of time formally provided to the teacher during school time. It does not refer to the actual total amount of time spent preparing for classes, most of which occurs beyond the confines of the school day. The following table summarizes the responses.

Table 22: Distribution of Preparation Time, by Time Groups

Allocated minutes of
preparation per Week
% Distribution
of Respondents
20 or Less 2.5%
20 to 30 2.5%
30 to 40 4.3%
40 to 50 1.9%
50 to 60 7.2%
60 to 70 8.8%
70 to 80 49.0%
80 to 90 1.9%
Over 90 22.0%

The chart data shows that the most common preparation time allocation was from 70 to 80 minutes per week. The next most common grouping was the "Over 90" minute category.

Secondary English teachers’ preparation time is not always evenly distributed throughout the year — about 40 per cent of survey respondents indicated they did not receive allocated preparation time in this manner. The majority of those who reported uneven distribution worked in schools with semester or quarter timetables and indicated preparation time was concentrated in one semester or quarter but not another. Indeed, over 90 per cent of teachers citing uneven preparation time distribution came from schools using either a "Semester" or a "Combination Semester/Linear" timetable.

For the survey as a whole, teachers were evenly split when asked whether the distribution of preparation time throughout the year was appropriate to their needs. However, when timetable organization data was examined in relation to teacher views on the appropriateness of preparation time to their needs, those teachers working in semestered schools expressed the highest level of dissatisfaction.

Survey respondents from semester schools reported limited preparation time as, in most cases, preparation was only available in one half of the year, with none available in the other half.

"I would like to see semestered system eliminated, especially in the teaching of English. If not, then more preparation time (fewer blocks to teach). As I don’t see this happening, I will be looking for another career."

"I really enjoy teaching English when I have three courses per semester. I hate it when I have 4 in a semester. Last year, I took unpaid leave of absence to avoid four. This year, I managed because I had English tutorial as one of my four. Next year, I have applied for medical leave so that I’m teaching 3 per semester only."

"I have taught in both linear and semestered schools. In the latter, prep time was concentrated in one semester. It was brutal."

"I thoroughly enjoy teaching English and it is my first love, but I am now taking on some Junior Socials courses to ease my marking and prep load. I feel much more confident and capable in my teaching when I have more prep time. The semester when I have no prep is exhausting! Many of our English teachers are cutting back on teaching assignments or the number of English courses in order to cope."

Table 23: Percentage of Respondents that See Preparation Time Distribution as Inappropriate to Their Needs, by School Organization


While semester-school teachers accounted for just over 40 per cent of those participating in the survey, they accounted for 57 per cent of survey respondents expressing dissatisfaction with the distribution of preparation time. And, unlike teachers from schools with other timetabling systems, a clear and sizeable majority of teachers in these schools see inappropriate organization of preparation time as a problem that complicates their work lives.

Teachers were also asked about their ability to use preparation time. Less than a third of respondents (30 per cent) stated that they were generally able to use assigned preparation time for its intended purpose. While only 16 per cent reported themselves unable to use such time, the largest block — 54 per cent of respondents — faced regular demands that negatively impacted on the time they had to prepare for classes. The five main activities that reduced teachers’ ability to use preparation time were, in descending order of frequency, as follows:

  • making phone calls;
  • reporting absences;
  • responding to Administrative Officer requests;
  • helping students; and
  • attending meetings.

For reasons such as these, many respondents identified the lack of preparation time and its inappropriate distribution as areas of major workload concern.

3. Meetings, paperwork, and other administrative tasks

Many respondents cited the wide range of tasks they were required to do, or meetings they were expected to attend, as a significant area of workload concern.

"If all I did was teach English, the job would be great. But all of the administrative work wears me down: collecting, evaluating marks, interim report cards, doing report cards using a very un-user-friendly program, taking attendance, signing in-signing out/repairing/ordering/collecting textbooks, long break and bus supervision, screening meetings, grad teas, grad banquets, meet the teacher night, P/T interviews, parent concerns, phone calls, letters, dept. meetings, staff meetings, union meetings, running materials off. All those things other than teaching English!"

Many also used the word "expectations" to describe tasks expected of them, with the sense that the expectations were ever-present, constantly growing, and collectively becoming increasingly unmanageable.

"When I started teaching English in another province, I was given time to prepare work. Secretaries typed assignments and exams. Fewer expectations were placed on my lunch hours and after-school hours. English teachers had a lighter class load than others for a brief span of time — 20-25 years ago. The teaching suffers when teachers are overworked, as I consider most English teachers to be today."

"What I do not love is the pressure I feel to be accountable for statistics beyond my control. I cannot magically make an unskilled group of students academically literate in one year in time to perform on the final exam. Yet, I feel that is the expectations of administrators, district staff and parents."

"Teaching English is less and less the issue. The issue is that we are expected to assume the responsibilities once assumed by the family."

4. Providing tutorials

Tutorial time is time English teachers devote to assisting students that does not involve teaching a specific class. Almost 70 per cent of English teacher respondents reported they provided regular tutorial time for students. In some cases this was assigned as part of a teaching load; in others, it was additional to a teaching load. For either group, the average total weekly time allotment was about 90 minutes.

a. Where tutorial time is assigned as part of a teaching load

About ten per cent of respondents indicated tutorial time was part of their assigned teaching load. For these teachers, the largest group — about 44 per cent — reported one hour or less tutorial time, another 35 per cent reported between one and two hours, and an additional fifth reported above two hours a week. A total of 13.2 per cent of respondents stated that this time had been reduced in the last five years, while 17.5 per cent stated that it had increased. More than two-thirds of respondents — 69.4 per cent — indicated no change in tutorial assignment allocation over the last five years.

b. Where tutorial time is in addition to a teaching load

About 63 per cent reported they provided tutorials but that it was additional to their regular teaching load. Of this group, a large number (109 respondents, or 27 per cent of the total) offered tutorial time for exactly one hour a week, with slightly under half that number providing 30 minutes of weekly tutorial time. Some 58 per cent of respondents in this group offered an hour or less of tutorial time. A quarter offered between one and two hours, while 16 per cent offered more than two hours tutorial in addition to their teaching load. Eight per cent of this group of respondents indicated reduced tutorial time over the last five years, while 40.0 per cent reported an increase. The balance — just over half the group — reported no change.

To summarize, these data indicate that close to three-quarters of respondents provided tutorial time. Very few English teachers received tutorial time as part of their assigned time, while almost two-thirds of respondents provided tutorials in addition to their teaching. On balance, there is also clear evidence of an increase in the provision of tutorials as additional work rather than as part of assigned teaching load. The increased prevalence of tutorial time exacerbates the workload of English teachers by increasing teaching/contact time with students and by correspondingly reducing time available for other tasks like preparation or marking. Minimal formal assignment of such time as a part of the regular teaching load, and a common increased expectation of tutorial time in addition to the regular load, would also appear to circumvent contract language dealing with teaching hours.

5. Participation in students’ extra-curricular activities

Depending on the activity, between ten and 30 per cent of respondents indicated involvement in a range of extra-curricular activities connected to aspects of English teaching. Thirty per cent were involved in school drama productions, 21.0 per cent in the yearbook production, 20.0 per cent in creative writing activities, and 10.8 per cent in debating. However, most respondents — about seventy-five per cent — indicated involvement in other, non-English related extra-curricular activities.

When asked to compare their current level of extra-curricular involvement with that of five years ago, less than twenty five per cent of respondents indicated increased involvement, while 36.3 per cent indicated the same levels of involvement. Close to forty per cent of respondents spend less time now than five years ago on extra-curricular activities, this group being evenly divided between those who spent "somewhat" less and those who spent "considerably" less time.

The distribution of respondents by actual time spent on such activities is shown in the chart below.

Table 24: Distribution of Respondents’ Extra-Curricular Time, Hours Per Week


These data reflect the determined effort of English teachers to participate in extra-curricular activities, whether English-related, sports, or club-related. However, it appears that the excessive workload identified by respondents is inducing close to forty per cent of teachers to reduce extra-curricular involvements. Such a trend should be of concern, as it reflects reduced participation in the "community" of school life and translates into potentially fewer opportunities for student participation in extra-curricular interests.

SECTION 4: Changes over time, and the nature of English teaching today

1. Perceived changes in teaching English over time

English teachers were asked to agree or disagree with four statements related to the nature of English teaching, comparing the present time with the time when each respondent started his or her teaching career. The following table presents the results.

Table 25: How English Teaching has Changed Since You Started?


% Agreeing

I am teaching a greater range of English courses.


The student population and its needs have become more challenging.


I have less time available to work with individual students.


I have less time available to work with students outside class.


Just under half of respondents said they now taught more English courses compared to when they began teaching. However, close to 90 per cent indicated that the student population had become more challenging today and that they had less time to work with individual students in class. And, more than three out of four secondary English teachers stated they had less time now to work with students outside of the classroom.

Response patterns to these questions varied comparatively little when tabulated in relation to differences in school organization. However, the final two statements in the above table did reveal some significant age-related differences in the pattern of responses. Secondary English teachers are progressively less inclined to agree with the notion they had less time for students in class with the increase in age — 95 per cent of teachers in their 20s agreed versus 82 per cent of teachers in their 50s and 58 per cent of teachers in their 60s. For the final statement, a similar pattern presented itself. More than 89 per cent of English teachers in their 20s agreed with the idea they had less time for students outside class whereas for teachers in their 30s and 40s this percentage falls to about 79 per cent. Some 69 per cent of teachers in their 50s agreed while a majority of teachers in their 60s (close to 55 per cent) disagreed with the proposition. Patterns such as these suggest that younger teachers have less capacity to deal with workload pressures without recourse to worklife choices that reduce individual student contact time, thereby potentially compromising the quality of teacher-student interactions.

Tabulations for the same questions using male/female gender breakdowns showed women more inclined to agree with most of these questions, but by relatively small margins.

2. The nature of English teaching today

In the exploration of workload pressures and teaching strategies, respondents were asked to react to a series of statements designed to explore what makes English teaching challenging. The five statements were not intended to be comprehensive; rather, they were designed to uncover teacher perceptions that might contribute to describing the nature of contemporary English teaching.

Table 26: Statements That Describe the Nature of English Teaching Today


Agree Disagree
  1. Students are more inclined to raise personal or sensitive issues
    in English classes than they are elsewhere in the school.
81.1% 18.9%
  1. English teaching has a "counselling" component to it because
    of the way these issues surface in English classes.
84.5% 15.5%
  1. English teachers are routinely expected to deal with literacy
    issues in my school.
93.1% 6.9%
  1. The high level of verbal exchanges in English classes makes
    English teaching particularly exhausting.
76.5% 23.5%
  1. Because all students take English, classes are interrupted for
    information handouts.
65.2% 34.8%

As can be seen, respondents on the whole agreed with each of the five statements, generally by sizeable margins. When the data for these questions was examined in relation to respondents’ gender, some differences did emerge in the pattern of responses but typically they were not great. Secondary English teachers’ agreement with the statements also varied little depending on their level of teaching experience or their age.

SECTION 5: Stress and coping strategies

1. Stress and its effects on teachers’ personal lives

The impact of English teachers’ workload on personal life was also an area explored in the survey. Respondents were asked whether they experienced certain stress symptoms and how effectively they were able to cope with these symptoms. The next table shows the pattern of responses.

Table 27: Stress Symptoms and Coping Abilities

Have you had any of the
following effects?
How effectively
do you cope?

Stress Symptom




Fatigue 92.3% 7.7% 7.0% 38.1% 44.7% 10.1%
Loss of time for
health maintenance
64.3% 35.7% 10.6% 33.8% 36.7% 18.9%
Loss of time with
85.4% 14.6% 8.7% 36.2% 44.0% 11.0%
Loss of personal
interest/hobby time
86.2% 13.8% 18.4% 37.4% 32.3% 11.9%
Loss of interest in
other areas
69.4% 30.6% 16.8% 39.9% 30.4% 12.9%

Teachers across all ages reported substantial "Fatigue" with little measurable difference between groups. In the area of "Loss of Time for Health Maintenance", the percentage answering "Yes" declined steadily with age, from close to 70 per cent for teachers in their twenties to about 43 per cent for teachers in their 60s. A similar pattern presented itself when teachers were asked about the "Loss of Time for Family or Friends" — almost 89 per cent of teachers in their 20s and 30s said "Yes" while about 82 per cent of teachers in their 50s and 73 per cent in their 60s answered "Yes". When asked about the "Loss of Personal Interest or Hobby Time", almost 90 per cent of those in their 20s and thirties agreed as compared with about ten per cent fewer teachers in their 50s or 60s. And for the symptom "Loss of Interest in Other Areas", younger teachers also reported a greater impact. It appears clear therefore that the youngest English teachers are faring worst in terms of stress symptoms and their impact.

At the same time, the coping skills of teachers increase directly and consistently with age. While some 56 per cent of teachers in their 20s report either "Not Coping" or "Coping Somewhat" with the impact of "Fatigue", this figure falls to 25 per cent for teachers in their 60s. Patterns of similar direction and magnitude are present for the symptoms of loss of "Time for Health Maintenance", "Interest in Other Areas" and "Time for Family and Friends." In the case of "Loss of Personal Interest or Hobby Time", a like drop occurs with the increase in age, but the percentage difference is less extreme.

The more experienced teachers are, generally the better they report coping with fatigue, although the differences here are not great. The greatest proportion reporting not coping effectively with "Loss of Time for Health Maintenance" are clearly the least-experienced teachers — 14 .4 per cent of those with "0 to 5 years" experience versus 7.1 per cent with those with "over 20 years". "Loss of Time With Family and Friends" shows little discernible pattern with the change in experience level. Similarly, "Loss of Personal Interest or Hobby Time" affects the least-experienced teachers most, although the degree of reported difference is not great. A like pattern is evidenced for "Loss of Interest in Other Areas". Clearly, in this area, levels of teachers’ experience has some role to play in determining the degree to which secondary English teachers cope effectively with job-related sources of stress.

In terms of gender, male teachers report less impact from job-related stress symptoms. The largest gender gaps occurring in the areas of "Fatigue" or "Loss of Time for Health Maintenance." At the same time, male teachers claim to be substantially better at coping than women in these same areas, with from ten to twelve per cent fewer responses in the "Not Coping" and "Somewhat Coping" categories. For the other "Symptom" areas, men typically claim to cope better but by a significantly smaller margin. Gender therefore does appear to play a role in determining both the impact of job-related stress and the reported ability to cope effectively with that stress.

In general, survey responses dealing with stress and coping abilities reflect a disturbing picture. Younger, less-experienced teachers report both more stress and lesser ability to cope with it, as compared with their older and more experienced colleagues. Similarly, women report greater stress and less successful coping strategies than do men. Patterns such as these are likely having a significant impact on the ability of the public school system and of the secondary English teaching area to attract, hold, and retain teachers.

2. Teaching/school-related strategies to manage workload pressures and reduce stress

a. General strategies

Respondents were asked to outline their most common teaching /school-related strategies for managing workload pressures. Their chosen strategies are shown below in descending order of priority.

Table 28: Individual Teacher Strategies to Manage Workload Pressures


% Indicating Having
Used this Strategy

1. Adopting more ‘holistic’ approaches to marking


2. Having simpler marking in changed assignments


3. Having less individual/written feedback


4. Changing teaching methods to save time


5. Reducing or eliminating extra-curricular activity


6. Teaching less English, more other subjects


7. Moving from full-time to part-time teaching


There were significant variances in responses to the above statements between age groupings. Generally, the older the teachers, the less inclined they are to utilize these strategies. "Changing teaching methods to save time" is an option favoured by three-quarter of teachers in their 20s or 30s, but only by about 57 per cent of teachers in their 50s and 60s. Similarly, some 75 to 80 per cent of teachers in their 20s and 30s report a reliance on "simpler marking in changed assignments", while the percentage drops to between 60 and 65 per cent for teachers in their 50s or 60s. Recourse to "holistic" teaching methods is favoured relatively evenly across the different age groupings as is "teaching less English and more other subjects". Conversely, "reducing or eliminating extra-curricular involvement" rises significantly with the increase in age.

In terms of gender, male teachers are more inclined to use Strategies 2 and 3, by margins of six and three percentage points respectively. On the other hand, female teachers report greater reliance on Strategies 5, 6 and 7 with percentage variances of 15, twelve and five points respectively. For the strategies 1, 3 and 4, there are comparatively minor differences based on gender.

Little difference is evidenced when data for school organization are examined in conjunction with the "strategy" information. A significant exception emerges when secondary English teachers are asked about moving from full- to part-time status. On average, secondary English teachers from Semester and Combination-based schools are almost twice as likely to work part-time as a coping strategy, compared to their colleagues in schools with other timetable systems.

What many English teachers appear to be reporting are strategies they have developed to survive. However, these strategies do not necessarily reflect best pedagogical practices.

"While I really try to maintain a high standard of pedagogy in my classroom, my teaching has suffered because of my need for more time to mark and prepare. I end up resorting to less effective or interesting activities because I just can’t always have everything perfectly organized and prepared. Also, a lot of this depends on how many times I’ve taught a particular course. The more times, the more effective the course. I have major reservations about teaching a Grade 12 course unless I get sufficient marking/preparation time."

"I’ve requested all Social Studies courses for next year because English is too exhausting! I had to cut back a course last spring because of exhaustion and the very real possibility of marriage breakdown given my lack of time for home, family, and friends."

b. Three coping strategies: teaching fewer English classes, teaching part-time, quitting teaching

Two reported strategies are particularly disturbing: the fact that some teachers elect to teach less English, or to teach part-time, as coping mechanisms. Both of these strategies were also evident in analysis of the qualitative data, as was a third — the idea that some English teachers were considering quitting teaching altogether, primarily because of workload issues associated with teaching secondary English.

"I love teaching English but the onerous nature of the marking and the challenge of dealing with developing good writing skills have resulted in my requesting to teach elective courses."

"All the English teachers I know are in despair about the workload. A majority are leaving English for other subjects or other work in the school. We are losing our best, most experienced people because they cannot support the workload anymore."

"I am thinking seriously of not teaching English anymore, or of leaving this profession."

"I’m part-time now because I cannot handle the stress of huge classes and all that goes with them."

"This year, I took a one-block leave to ensure I had year-round prep. I will continue to do this because there is no other way for me to manage my marking, prep, extracurricular responsibilities, etc."

"Students deserve teachers who are not exhausted by their work and teachers deserve a professional life that allows time for personal growth. For these two reasons, I decided that it was important to reduce my assignment from full-time (read all of the time) to a part-time assignment."

"I am sad to say that I am leaving a career that I’ve loved because I’ve had to give up too much of my life in order to teach English the way I think it needs to be taught."

"I intend to leave this profession in one year due to the unreasonable amount of unpaid work, stress and total lack of resources. I refuse to do the job badly, and so I’ll leave before it quite literally kills me."

"After only 2 years, I am so stressed and overwhelmed that I am seriously looking at how I can begin taking courses to follow a different career path."

These comments underscore the methods English teachers commonly use to cope with their workload. Together they point to a serious and troubling situation. Some teachers report an intention to quit teaching English because the workload is too great for them to cope. Others are electing to be paid part-time but effectively work full-time, and, in worst-case scenarios, teachers are quitting the profession because the system has forced more out of them than they feel they can manage. In each case, there exists a loss to the individual as well as to the educational system. Fewer specialists remain to teacher English. Others subsidize the system by taking less pay through a reduction in their formal teaching load, and some of those use non-paid time to mark papers and prepare for classes. In terms of those who may potentially leave the profession, the survey points to a number of teachers who are seriously considering other options to teaching.

It is not possible to state with certainty that there is a progression away from full-time English instruction to working in other subjects, to reduce workload, to part-time work, and to quitting altogether. However, the pattern of survey responses and the open-ended comments offered by teachers within the survey do offer signs that a trajectory of this nature — whether in whole on in part — does indeed exist. If anything, the problem may be underestimated, as the survey was only completed by those still teaching English. Others who may have moved into other subject areas full-time cannot be identified, nor can any teachers who might have quit teaching altogether because of workload pressures.

3. Conditions required to improve the work of teaching English

Survey respondents were also asked what conditions they would need in order to do the job well, and given the choices of "Better Resources", "Better Organization" and "Better Professional Support", as well as the opportunity to add any other conditions they considered necessary. The following table shows the overall pattern of responses.

Table 29: Conditions Required for Job Improvement

Better Resources* 2.7% 24.5% 72.8%
Better Organization** 11.6% 40.6% 47.9%
Better Professional Support*** 5.4% 39.2% 55.4%

* Defined in the survey instrument as "more funding/staff time directed to the teaching of secondary English."
** Defined as "how the teaching of secondary English is organized at the school level."
*** Defined as "how teachers and the profession support English teachers."

In gender terms, female teachers were consistently more inclined to attach a high level of importance to these three areas of potential redress. Women saw the need for "Better Resources", as "Very Important" 74.4 per cent of the time, compared with 69.5% for men. For "Better Organization", the margin was one of 50.6 per cent to 42.4 per cent. And for "Better Professional Support, the difference was 61.2 per cent to 44.2 per cent.

Although there was strong support across the board, "Better Resourcing" was more strongly favoured by older teachers. Interest in "Better Professional Support" was seen as very important by from 51 to 60 per cent of teachers, with the highest support found amongst teachers in their 40s. Age and years of teaching experience do not play a clear role in influencing the way secondary English teachers respond to this question.

SECTION 6: Discussion and recommendations

The results of this survey reflect the passion and the pain of many secondary English teachers: passion both for teaching their subject area and their students; pain caused by increased and excessive workload. Excessive workload can be broken down into its constituent parts, which appear to be in three categories in a hierarchy of importance. The first is the sheer extent of an average secondary English teacher’s workload, and the volume of hours logged on the job in areas like marking and preparation. The second is class composition, in particular the numbers of students with special needs and the numbers of English as a Second Language students, whether designated or not. The third category includes organizational issues such as timetabling systems, and, in particular, the semester and quarter systems.

In terms of marking, there is a strong case for a more overt recognition of the extreme marking load which is part of teaching English. In the past, there has been some assistance for teachers in the form of the provision of "markers" who assisted the teacher by marking some papers, thereby reducing the teacher’s workload. No such markers appeared to be available to the respondents of this survey. Another solution would be a reduction in classroom teaching time and an increase in time allocated in contract to English teachers for marking.

Limited and unutilized preparation time is a more complex issue. Secondary teachers in Canada are allocated minimal preparation time, and a good case could be made for increasing the amount of time allocated for preparation. But the current culture of secondary schools and the limited funding available to them appears to limit teachers’ capacity to use time for preparation. Many respondents reported a myriad of tasks that constantly interrupt time allocated for preparation. Teachers’ work, based on the data provided by respondents, involves a wide range of "interruptions" that involve significant time in non-teaching tasks. To remove such interruptions may require changing the culture of schools so that teachers concentrate more on teaching and less on organizational tasks. Such an approach either narrows the focus of secondary schooling, or requires non-teaching personnel to administer non-teaching tasks and areas. While either a cultural change and/or increased resources may be required, such a discussion is beyond the scope of this paper.

Changing class composition has made the work of secondary English teachers more difficult and complex. While the numbers of designated English as a Second Language students or students with special needs has increased, support for their successful participation in B.C.’s classrooms has historically been inadequate, and is arguably deteriorating, thereby increasing classroom teachers’ workload. Evidence for B.C.’s inadequate support for students with special needs can be found in a recent paper by Perry et al. (2001).12 Perry writes that:

B.C. has a history of under serving exceptional students. In 1987 the ministry provided special education funding to 6.2% of the students enrolled in public schools while other jurisdictions were supporting 12% of their populations. In 1989, the Canadian Council for Exceptional Children reported prevalence estimates for LDs in several jurisdictions across Canada. B.C.’s estimates were the lowest at 1.29%. Estimates in other jurisdictions varied from 3-10%. (p. 18)

Perry also gives considerable credibility to English teachers’ perspective that they have increased numbers of non-designated students with special needs in their classroom. He states:

… our examination of the resources provided for students with LDs (Learning Disabilities) in B.C.’s schools indicate that services for students with LDs are underfunded (e.g., funds are provided to 2% of the school-age population when experts estimate that the actual prevalence of students with LDs is closer to 4 or 5%). As a consequence, it is possible that LDs are not being identified, or that districts are using funds allocated for 2% of the students to support 4-5% of the students. (pp. 27–28)

B.C. funds lower than the prevalent population of students with special needs, and at half the rate of other jurisdictions. It also caps services for ESL students after five years. Collectively, such limited support impacts both students and teachers severely, reducing the capacity of students to maximize learning and significantly increasing the workload of all teachers. It particularly increases the workload of secondary English teachers, whose subject area is language-focused and is mandatory for graduation. This means that all students must take English to graduate, regardless of language proficiency or special need.

The issue of class composition, therefore, is a major factor contributing to excessive workload. In addressing this issue, the traditional approach by teacher unions has been to limit the numbers of exceptional or ESL students in any one class. Such an approach now appears extremely limited, when many students who have an exceptionality or limited academic English proficiency are not designated and hence not funded. A better approach, which is reflected in language tabled by the BCTF in current contract negotiations, might combine the limits per class with measures that provide greater support for classroom teachers. These could include smaller class sizes, more ESL/Special Education specialists, and more focus on direct service by such specialists to support the work of classroom teachers.

Of 66 contracts within the British Columbia public school system, 59 have secondary class-size language. Of those 59, 32 contracts have a further reduction for secondary English classes, with one to five fewer students in English classes, with the majority allowing for two or three fewer students. Only about half of B.C.’s school districts’ collective agreements, therefore, include reduced class size for English teachers. Even where such reductions occur, the reductions for English classes generally place maximum numbers for English at higher levels than most contracts provide for Science, Industrial Education and Home Economics. Of the thirteen metropolitan districts (Districts 33-45), five have no reduced class size for secondary English, and only one metropolitan district (Surrey) contains a contractual reduction of five students in each English class.

The third major issue was that of the use of semester and quarter timetable systems. Significantly greater numbers of returned surveys were received from teachers in semester schools than might have been anticipated from the provincial profile of the numbers of teachers working in such schools. This may indicate dissatisfaction among teachers in such schools, as the BCTF traditionally receives a higher survey response rate when members are dissatisfied with a given issue. The evidence from this survey clearly indicates that teachers perceive a major problem with the capacity of such timetable systems to provide regular preparation time throughout the school year. Such a problem does not seem insurmountable. Some schools in B.C. have adapted semester/quarter systems or blended them with linear systems to provide more regular preparation time for teachers distributed throughout the school year. Some of these adaptations include:

  • placing one grade level on a linear system, and ensuring all teachers take a class in that grade.
  • including a TOC component in the school staffing to allow all teachers occasional release for preparation.
  • team-teaching approaches, with an occasional double class taught by one teacher, thereby providing preparation time.

Whether or not these solutions may be used depends on a range of factors, which include school size and contract considerations. Some schools have found limited solutions to preparation time within semester systems. What seems less clear is why schools use semester or quarter timetables if they result in excessive workload and induce stress in teachers. Arguably, the time has come for the merits of the semester and quarter systems to be discussed more openly, with a consideration and comparison of the effects of linear and semester systems on student learning and teacher workload.

Prior to conducting this study on workload issues for secondary English teachers, one of this paper’s authors reviewed the international literature on teacher workload and stress.13 When considering the results on this survey in the context of the international literature, the following points are worth noting. One general but important perspective is that responses to workload surveys appear to underestimate actual workload when survey data are compared to diary time-use data. The disturbing data reflected in this study may therefore be an underestimate of what actually occurs.

Increased teacher workload and stress is widely reported in Canada, Australia and England/Wales. What most of these jurisdictions have shared in the last ten years is a variety of "reforming" governments with frequent initiatives, high expectations, and generally inadequate funding. Whether the ideology is of the reforming "right" (Thatcher, U.K., or Harris, Ontario) or of the moderate "left" (B.C.’s NDP), almost all such governments have sought to significantly change K–12 education systems under their control. Increased testing, more accountability measures, inclusionary policies, and a range of social interventions have negatively impacted teacher workload as the initiatives pile up to add responsibilities to teachers’ work without removing any existing work or expectations. Consequently, the more reform, the more teacher workload appears to be negatively impacted. The lessons from the U.K., Ontario and B.C. do not inspire confidence that governments understand or care about the effect of their initiatives on teachers’ workload, a sobering thought as a new and likely "reforming" government takes control in B.C.

Another issue that emerged in the international literature was that of gender. Women teachers appear to be more at risk than men when workload issues generate stress, in part because of the "double workload" of school and domestic labour and the pressures inherent in balancing professional and home life. Gender appears a significant factor in this study and the findings from this study reflect conclusions broadly found in the literature. Data from this study and from the literature states that women face greater risks than men in terms of failing to cope with workload pressure. Compared to men, women may have, or may take, fewer opportunities to disengage from caring for children and/or elderly parents. A major focus in a predominantly female profession when considering workload should be its effect on women teachers. Proposed solutions should therefore include considerations of gender.

Efforts to address workload issues might also focus on teachers entering their mid-career years. When compared with the provincial age-profile for all teachers, the survey respondents reflected a significantly lower percentage of teachers in the 41–49 year age group. It is difficult to be conclusive about why this is happening, because the survey was not able to reach teachers who had left the profession. However, a comparative lack of mid-career English teachers may indicate an exodus of teachers prior to their reaching this career stage. Survey data looking at workload, stress, and coping capacity are of particular relevance in considering this possibility. Data from this survey show younger teachers reporting a higher incidence of workload-related stress and a reduced capacity to cope with stress symptoms, while the demographics show fewer mid-career teachers of English. As such, these data indicate a likely exodus from teaching English, or from teaching altogether, in the mid-career phase. The likelihood of such an exodus is supported by qualitative data, in which many respondents indicated that they had reduced their English teaching load, or were considering leaving the profession altogether. For teachers to leave the profession because of workload-induced stress is unacceptable and amounts to wholly preventable attrition. The case appears strong for reducing workloads and improving supports such as mentoring. Measures to reduce workload should reduce attrition, and would reflect a cost-effective intervention in a time of internationally-increased demand and reduced supply of teachers.

This study has explored the issue of workload for secondary English teachers. There is strong evidence that their workload has reached unacceptable limits. Failure to address the issue is likely to be problematic for students whose learning may be negatively affected by overworked and unduly stressed teachers. For those who teach English, many have already incurred significant professional and personal costs while prioritizing the needs of students.

In Canadian education systems, which to date provide little evidence of care for the costs incurred to teachers through constant educational "reforms", there is also much to learn from the English situation. In England, the government is belatedly realizing the connection between workload/stress and teachers’ capacity to work effectively. There also exists a growing understanding that teachers will leave the profession if workload and stress are too great, and a recognition that the cost of such attrition is far greater than the costs of reducing workload to levels that are more manageable. At a time when demand for teachers is high, and the supply is reducing, such attrition is seen as increasingly unacceptable.

This paper began with a title that stated "I love English teaching, but…." This quote exemplifies the sentiment of many respondents to the survey. They love to teach, they love to teach English, and they love working with students, but the pressures for many English teachers are increasingly surpassing their abilities to cope. Such pressures are what follow the "but" in the title quote. When the "but" becomes greater than the love for teaching, teachers can and will find ways to deal with the pressure, ranging from compromising good practices to reducing their employment status, or quitting the system altogether.

Much of the literature clearly states that teachers in many jurisdictions are overworked and stressed. Such a pattern is not unique to English teachers. Nevertheless, this focus on English teachers allows for greater understanding of workload issues, and offers some identification of areas where improvements could be made. This study will be followed with a consideration of workload for all B.C. teachers, elementary and secondary.

There is a strong case that B.C.’s educational system may face significant problems with hiring and retention unless action is taken to address teacher workload and stress. It is time therefore to end the platitudes about the central role and importance of teachers, and to take concrete steps to reduce their workload.


1 Provincial data source: B.C. Ministry of Education Standard Report 2057, Age distribution of educators within province (for 2000/2001). This report includes all teachers and administrators in B.C. public schools, so comparisons are approximate rather than exact. [Back]

2 The comparison used Ministry of Education Standard Report 2089, Public school student/educator ratio by school within district/authority (for 2000/2001). [Back]

3 Salary grid placement data published by the Ministry of Education does offer a proxy measure. In 2000/01, the percentage of teachers being paid at Category 6 was 19.3 per cent. This latter percentage probably overstates the extent of graduate degrees because although most Category 6 teaches have graduate degrees, some do not. Ministry of Education Standard Report 2085, FTE educators by gender, experience and salary category (for 2000/2001). [Back]

4 Ministry of Education Standard Report 2067, Years of experience within B.C. education system of educators by position and gender within school district (for 2000/2001). [Back]

5 Ministry of Education Standard Report 2067, Years of experience within B.C. education system of educators by position and gender within school district (for 2000/2001). [Back]

6 Ministry of Education Standard Report 1566B, Secondary school organization by school type and district/authority (for 2000/2001). [Back]

7 Ministry of Education Standard Report 1566A, Number of schools by type and organization within district/authority (for 2000/2001). [Back]

8 Thomas, W.P., and Collier, V. (1997). School effectiveness for language minority students. NCBE Resource Collection Series, No. 9. [Back]

9 See Table 4, page 3 of this report. [Back]

10 Calculated using the average weekly hours of English teacher for survey respondents who both reported working full-time and who also reported that they taught secondary English full-time. [Back]

11 Actually, this calculation probably understates the total extent of work, as many English teachers spend time marking and preparing during weeks when school is not in session. [Back]

12 Perry, N.E., McNamara, J.K., and Mercer, K.L. (May 2001). Principles, policies and practices in Special Education in British Columbia. Paper presented at the CSSE conference, Laval, Quebec. [Back]

13 Naylor, C. (2001). Teacher workload and stress: An international perspective on human costs and systemic failure. Vancouver: BCTF Research.  [Back]


English Teaching Workload Survey Questionnaire (in PDF format)

Contacting the authors

Charlie Naylor is a researcher in the BCTF’s Research and Technology Division. Contact: cnaylor@bctf.ca.

John Malcolmson works as an independent consultant. Contact: jmalcolmson@home.com.

Copyright © British Columbia Teachers’ Federation, 2001. All rights reserved.

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