Life lessons: people hog the staffroom photocopier

You only need to photocopy a single sheet...but someone else is busy churning out hundreds of copies. Tes' maven of manners offers advice

Thomas Blaikie

Life lessons: Elderly gentleman, sitting in leather armchair and smoking cigar

Dear Thomas 

What is the best way to deal with the infuriating selfishness of certain teachers who regularly hog the photocopier

Some think nothing of printing reams of paper during the 20-minute recess, while others, who may only require a single copy, stand by fuming as the minutes tick by and time runs out.

Polite hints and gentle requests to interrupt the process for a few seconds are usually met with a shrug or a tirade about their own requirements. The attitude seems to be one of first come, first served. 

A polite notice above the photocopier goes unnoticed.

Any advice would be welcome.

Moira McDonald

Not yet paperless

Dear Moira,

Oh, the photocopier! I’m amazed to hear they’re still going. I’d imagined schools had gone paperless by now. 

On the other hand, it’s reassuring that nothing changes – even the bad things. 

In all my years as a teacher, the problem of the photocopier was never solved. Rather like the social-security budget with which governments have wrestled for generations, there was just nothing to be done. 

We started out, in the early 1990s, with one photocopier in the staffroom. Every 10 days, its innards were on the floor being frantically poked at by the engineer in a neat sleeveless shirt, desperate to get away before the onslaught of teachers at breaktime.

Some people remain frightened of teachers all their lives, no matter how high they rise. 

A problem doubled

Eventually, someone had a brain-wave. Why not have TWO photocopiers? There must have been lavish means as well. 

But the next thing we knew, the headteacher started carrying on as if the photocopiers alone were going to bring down the school. The rocketing costs, the reckless extravagance of teachers copying away. A figure of £30,000 was bandied about. 

She did have a point, because the school was littered with photocopied sheets abandoned by the children. Possibly they couldn’t bear any more of it. 

Nothing made any difference. The right to photocopy was somehow fundamental. With animal ferocity, teachers were selecting x30 and pressing “Go”. 

Paper was hurling in every direction – except on the day or so every week when the machines broke down. 

Then came a thrilling breakthrough. It was announced that it had been discovered – goodness knows by whom – that photocopiers are terribly sensitive to different users.

If different people keep banging their lids down in different ways, they tangle up inside and cease functioning. But if just one person… 

Blasting the budget to smithereens

So it was decided to hire a photocopying specialist, who was put in a special room with quite a bank of machines. The school must have suddenly become a lot richer. 

The drawback was that photocopying had to be ordered in advance. Just one machine was kept on in the staffroom for emergency use. 

Well, you can imagine what happened. We were back to square one.

Only worse, because it turned out that some teachers were also using the printers attached to their computers – which by that time had appeared on the scene – to print multiple copies. The result was that budgets were blasted to smithereens. 

Underlying all this – and the savage behaviour at the photocopier that you describe – are the demands placed on teachers to be creative and not to rely on textbooks.

There’s necessity sometimes to be spontaneous, the requirements of different subjects, and the simple human diversity of the staffroom, where some will be more organised than others. 

Plus, of course, the lack of resources – although I’m quite convinced that photocopiers are like roads. The more you have, the more they will get choked up by users. 

When I started in teaching, there were no photocopiers, only the Roneo machine, which nobody used much. Somehow we managed. 

Then we got these machines and now, as you say, it’s dog eat dog. 

I feel that, as with cholera and TB, the cure will come long after the cause has been eradicated. We can only hope that tablets for all or some such come along as soon as possible. 

Meanwhile, I hesitate to say teachers are infuriatingly selfish by nature, but just maybe as a teacher you can fight your corner better than most. 


What to do about the kitchenette? 

I want you to know that I’m in touch with some young teachers, who are working undercover for me in vital matters of manners and etiquette. Don’t tell me I’m not bang up to date. 

The latest reports are troubling: an unsatisfactory state of affairs in the staffroom kitchenette

Back in the 80s, my friend Miss R got tangled up with the legs of the young male PE teacher in the minute staffroom service area. She said she was reaching for a low cupboard. Nobody quite believed her extended protests. 

But this has nothing to do with the present situation. Or I hope it doesn’t. 

Queuing at the sink seems to be the flashpoint. While waiting his turn, my agent invariably finds that a colleague barges in: “Sorry, I’ve got children waiting… The coach is just leaving… You don’t mind, do you?” 

What is a junior member of staff to do? I bet you these people behave in just the same way at home. 

There’s a certain type that, whenever they see someone at a sink, has to come winging in from the side: “I just need to give this mug a quick rinse. Won’t be a sec…” 

In Britain, queues are sacred. But if somebody jumps the queue, we’re too polite to say anything. 

I’ve advised my contact to be on the alert. Next time it happens, he’s to say: “Oh dear! There are two people in front of me. Why don’t you give me your mug and I’ll wash it for you?” 

Thomas Blaikie was a secondary English teacher for 25 years. He is author of Blaikie’s Guide to Modern Manners (4th Estate)

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Thomas Blaikie

Thomas Blaikie was a secondary English teacher for 25 years. He is author of Blaikie’s Guide to Modern Manners (4th Estate).

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