Technicians on what life – and work – is like during the Covid-19 crisis

An image showing chemistry flasks of different size put away on shelves in a glass fronted cupboard

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Glassware furloughed for the foreseeable future

Our experiences during the coronavirus pandemic are reflective of how quickly things have changed for everyone.

The official announcements that schools were closing came at different times across our nations, and indeed the nations closed their schools at different times. But in the days running up to the announcements there were signs that it might be coming, so we were able to start preparing as best we could.

Before closure, it was important to ensure everything was made safe and easy to pack away. In some cases, as a lone technician in a school for example, that involved asking teachers if we could cancel some practical lessons so that we had more time; most were understanding.

With my autism, the uncertainty has made my anxiety higher. On I have been speaking to other techs on the autistic spectrum, which has been helpful when I feel like my feelings are taking over

There’s a procedure we always use for shutting down at the end of the school year, so going through this process was helpful. However, it was difficult to remember everything as we were unsure which teachers would be in (with keyworker children). It was a stressful situation – we were basically running around like headless chickens. This shut-down procedure would normally take two weeks; this time it had to be done in two days, including making sure all the equipment was away, chemical stores locked and frozen organs thrown away in case of a power cut – there are always horror stories about this!

Adjusting to working from home

New experiences have included signing an invoice with a laptop trackpad rather than a pen. There’s other work that can be done too, including going through practicals in our schemes of work and pricing up purchases for outstanding equipment. For this, the online technicians’ forum has been a great source of information.

Over the school year the department has also been jotting down a wish list of things to make – this list has now come onto its own. There’s enough to keep us busy for another six weeks at least.

Keeping in touch with colleagues

Technicians and teachers are keeping in touch through social media. It’s good to share gossip and jokes during this time of isolation, and we can offer consulting services to the teachers as they plan their remote teaching.

Like many other parents, I’m trying to help my own children with their schoolwork while in lockdown. I’ve also tried some extension work – watching The Science of Doctor Who on BBC4 counts, doesn’t it?

Many science departments’ WhatsApp groups are active on a daily basis, which is really nice. They provide some humour over these dark days. Emails from other departments and updates from headteachers are also welcome.

Personal reactions

The realities of this truly novel experience are sinking in gradually. Lots of technicians have been placed on furlough, and no one can be sure what the end date of that will be.

I’m grateful that I work in a state school as I didn’t worry about losing my job. My concern is getting the department ready for when we return. The uncertainty of when that will be makes it difficult to plan purchases. Accounts close in the summer; miss that deadline and we lose our annual budget, as well as not being fully equipped for the new school year.

Fantasy wish list

This is what technicians would buy if money were no object

  • I would like a bigger prep room. It would be big enough to have desk space for each technician, including a computer. The benches would have room for prepping, space to store equipment temporarily when it’s returned after use, and even room to conduct several trial experiments at the same time. There would be enough floor space for as many trolleys as we need, loaded and ready to go. Alas, there would not be enough room for students to work: technicians only.
  • The item on the top of my list would be a clone of myself! When it’s busy around here, it’s really busy, and I’m the only technician on the staff. It would be handy if there were two of us – or two of me. I am a very tidy, organised person, and my clone would know just how I like everything. When it’s open evening season, it’s often a very busy time for the routine parts of my job too, so it would be great to have one technician to work on these and one to deal with the open evening workload. It would also be nice to have someone to talk to!
  • An image showing a 3D printer in action

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    On a technician’s money-no-object wish list: a 3D printer

    A 3D printer with the highest specification – one that allows the finest detail to be incorporated in the final product – would be amazing. I have lots of equipment in my tech room that has accumulated over time, all with broken plastic bits that can’t be replaced or are too expensive to buy. The new printer would mean I could replace lost and broken parts, or if a piece of a model went missing or cable holder snapped off the back of a power pack then I could just print new ones.