Technicians on extra duties outside the prep room

An image showing pupils during their break

Source: © Getty Images

It isn’t always possible for technicians to get out of lunch and break duty – taking them away from the prep room

In a cash-strapped education system, one way of saving money is to lose staff. As a result, technicians are often asked to cover other roles and we can end up having more contact time with students than we envisaged.

For those that don’t enjoy extra duties, it’s difficult to get out of it – your contract will have a clause saying you may be asked to undertake any ‘reasonable duties’.

Less time for science

Technicians understand that extra duties are part and parcel of the working day for most school employees, given the budget constraints and pressure on teaching time. However, it is important for a technician to be able to safely do their main job, setting up practical lessons and clearing away afterwards, which often needs to take place over a breaktime or lunchtime.

Time spent in the classroom, and break and lunch duties, all take technicians out of the prep room.

Being a lone technician, there is no one else to collect or deliver equipment during these precious periods, the safest time to wheel trolleys around the school. I also often end up with too much to do and have to stay late to finish my work; extra hours that are unpaid.

Beyond the call of duty

In a way lunch and break duties are enjoyable, because they help usfeel connected with the school, We get to know some of the students and they became more aware of ourrole. But on occasion I have had to break up fights in the playground. As a member of the support staff, I don’t know the students, and getting two hot-headed teenagers to calm down when you don’t know their names is impossible. Because they don’t see me in class, my instructions carry no weight. Not being aware of the behavioural system makes it even harder.

The majority of technicians receive no training on interacting with students apart from safeguarding courses. We have to learn from the situations we find ourselves in. Helping us learn to interact appropriately with students would surely be of benefit to the school community as a whole.

Making extra duties more worthwhile

Our main concern is to provide a safe and effective practical learning environment which allows pupils to develop and flourish. Extra duties that support and enhance this, such as running science clubs, or organising events and activities designed to excite and enthuse students about STEM subjects, are things that most technicians would willingly undertake.

Schools should encourage technicians to use their specialist knowledge to develop creative and worthwhile extra duties. This would mean we feel our expertise and knowledge is valued and respected, enhancing job satisfaction and leading to better retention and recruitment of technical support staff.

Let’s change the perception of extra duties from things we don’t really want to do, that disrupt or put pressure on our everyday working routines, into things that are meaningful and make a difference to students and our job satisfaction.

A series of unfortunate events

Technicians share tales of weird, worrying and wonderful experiences 

  • My biology teacher wanted two plucks (internal organs ordered from the butcher), for demonstrating the breathing and digestive systems. Then she changed her mind and they stayed in the freezer. On our new technician’s first day, an INSET day, our site manager let him into the tech room where they were greeted with a gut-wrenching stench – the defrosted plucks. The tech room was on a different circuit from the rest of the school, and power never returned after a power cut over the summer. To diffuse the smell, our site manager turned on the extractor fan, which ended up circulating the stench throughout the school.
  • An image showing a fly and maggots

    Source: © Getty Images

    Who knew maggots were such great escapologists?

    At the end of one open evening when no technicians were present, a teacher tried to get rid of a load of maggots by flushing them down the prep room sink. They proved to be excellent escapologists. From the following day they started turning up everywhere in the prep room and eventually gave us a swarm of big black flies. A few days later maggots turned up in the beanbags in the meeting area downstairs. We couldn’t believe they could get that far!
  • We had some bromine which was out of control and destroying everything we put in it. It was the end of term, just before Christmas, which made finding a removal company to come and get rid of it tricky. We finally found someone who was prepared to do it, but my head of department had to come in over Christmas to make sure it was removed correctly.