I recently read a piece of writing by a former colleague, Trevor (aka @MrFixItNMixItMan) about the importance of Science technicians from his perspective. If you’re interested have a read here.
Technicians rock! What would we do without them?! I’ve probably worked with over a dozen technicians in my ten years of teaching and they’ve almost all been amazing. When technicians are treated as equals to teaching staff and made to see how invaluable they are, motivation and morale tends to stay high, despite the relatively low pay.
The contrast between previous and current schools has been interesting to see; both have real strengths. In my previous school, the equipment ordering system was much more regimented and organised. One of the technicians who was a whizz with databases, wrote one called T-Reqs. It really was a thing of beauty and even the most technophobic of teaching staff could complete it with ease. All of the lessons from every scheme of work from Year 7 right the way up to Upper 6th were coded, for example the second lesson from the Year 10 ‘Respiration, Breathing and Circulation’ topic was coded ‘RBC2’. A week in advance, just like clockwork, each teacher completed T-Reqs by clicking on the lessons required for the following week. What this meant in reality, was by clicking ‘RBC2’ you could arrive to your lesson and waiting for you would be all of the equipment, card sorts, work sheets etc with exactly the right number for your class. Amazing, heh? There was obviously the option to order additional material extra to that specified in the scheme of work, so it certainly wasn’t a straight-jacket. The only downside to this was ordering a week in advance didn’t always give you flexibility as a teacher – sometimes you’d effectively be planning 5 lessons in advance and going off an a tangent and exploring different ideas which the students was a little more tricky.
At my current school, the whole system is much more flexible. My current (wonderful!) technician is the most laid back, flexible individual I’ve worked with. She’s never said no to me and only looks mildly harassed during that awful period of the year where she’s trying to trial and prepare GCSE, AS and A2 controlled assessments. The downside is having to do more of the preparation myself, compared to what I was used to (although I was completely spoilt before!)
So, what does a science technician do? Well the obvious thing is sorting out practical work. But this in itself can be split into many sections. Our technician needs to keep tabs on stock levels. She needs to pre-empt us the whole year as some cultures need to be ordered weeks in advanced. She trials out practicals for controlled assessments, making sure valid data can be collected by our students and finding the best equipment, concentrations and volumes to use for the job.
Our technician is responsible for the animals in the department (currently Ollie the tortoise, Zig and Zag the corn snakes and a multitude of fish tanks). This involves feeding, cleaning, buying food and talking to the students about them. She even makes the time to come in during the holidays to ensure they’re being looked after.
Experienced technicians are mind readers. I have such fond memories of Christine at my previous school. She took me under her wing as an NQT. There are so many practicals now, as an experienced teacher that I could do with my eyes shut…. Osmosis in potatoes, starch and amylase, quadrats etc. As an NQT everything was new to me and Christine patiently helped me settle into the department, more than any official mentoring scheme could. Without being patronising, she’d bring me the equipment I’d forgotten to order (without which the whole practical would fall to pieces) and suggest little insider tips to me. Due to her immense experience as a school technician she had a library of practical ideas in her brain. No idea how to make food chains interesting? Christine has an idea or two. A PGCE teaches you many things but it takes a long time to get used to the vast array of equipment in a science department and a good technician will spend the time helping.
I love technicians to get involved with enrichment activities. Coming face-to-face with the students is so important in my opinion – being squirreled away in the prep room all day means technicians don’t get to see just how vital their work is. Seeing the students enjoy the practical work and watching the penny drop is so rewarding. Depending on the individual, some are happy to be an extra pair of hands and some want to get more involved. Catherine is brilliant at helping to organise Biology club. She gets hands-on and teaches the students and loves to get stuck in herself. I loved working with Trevor due to his pro-active nature. He saw a ‘gap in the market’ and helped set up a sixth form science club, as well as a staff ‘Rocket Club’ as a Friday after-school wind down activity! Trevor was so popular in the department he often received end of year gifts from the students including a lovely personalised lab coat!
The vast majority of technicians I have worked with, come with a wealth of industrial and academic experience. Our physics technician David is so knowledgeable about astrophysics – he’s lent me reading material to brush up for the Space topic. He’ll also bring me extra bits of kit that I didn’t know about and show me how to use them. Catherine, my current technician has immense experience in industrial food labs and microbiology labs. Her experience is far greater than mine and I can learn so much from talking to her. It does, however, mean she frowns upon me storing my lunch in the Biology fridge. But then, I am a little bit gross….
As I previously said, motivation and morale need to be high (as with anyone) and I think it’s important to involve technicians as full members of the department. When planning the new A-level course, having Catherine on hand to look at practical requirements and suggestions will be invaluable to us, the students and make her realise how important she is to us.
Bottom line: Could I do my job without a technician? Well, if I cut out all practical work I could just about cope. But what is science without practical work? Without a technician I could easily spend a few hours after school preparing equipment for the next day. I genuinely dread to think what would happen when I need to do my pieces of controlled assessments with my GCSE, AS and A2 classes. Trevor summarises both my role and his role in his article:
“Teachers need to focus on teaching and getting the best out of their students. Technicians focus on getting the best out of the resources to give the best for… students.”