The photocopier

For all of us working in ELT, COVID-19 has been, and continues to be, a disruptive force. Teaching online has saved many of us, but let’s keep in mind those who have been left without any means of income.


Like many institutions, my teaching centre have measures to help restrict access to the office at any given time. The golden rule being: if you can work from home, you should.

Restricted access to the building and asking teachers to book in before arriving helps mitigate the risks caused by COVID-19. By default, it also limits access to the facilities in the teachers’ room, including the photocopier.

Rules set out by our institution ask teachers to limit how much photocopying they do. It’s made clear that we would prefer it if nobody did any copying at all. Essentially, think twice, and only copy when you really have to. Copying at the last minute is not allowed and all handouts need to be on student desks before the start of the lesson.

Although these and other measures have been introduced so we can do our part in limiting the spread of COVID-19, it’s also an excellent opportunity to show that we don’t need to photocopy as much as we do.

Having worked in language summer schools for years, I have seen how much photocopying is unnecessary. The truth is most student worksheets end up in the bin, not to mentioning the thousands of extra copies that never get used.

When you photocopy is also important. There should never be a queue for the photocopier just before the start of lessons, especially when the machine sits idle for most of the day. Copying at the last minute is frustrating for everyone and from experience, increases the likelihood of it breaking down. Here’s a typical scenario:

Your class is starting in five minutes when you realise you need an extra worksheet. Darting over to the photocopier you throw the original down on the glass plate before hitting the large green print button. The machine jolts into action and spits out your copy. It then throws out another copy, then another, and another. You look for the stop button. You press but it doesn’t seem to respond, is this the right button? In a panic, you decide to open the paper tray to stop it printing. This causes a paper jam. Your class is about to start and the person behind you is also in a rush. He opens the side door and looks for the jammed piece of paper. It’s there, trapped behind the fixing unit. Instead of seeking help, your colleague grabs the edge and pulls, ripping it in half. He then uses a pen to try and release the other bit. A few minutes later, the photocopier seems to be back up and running.

All copies now have black lines on them, and the machine seems to jam more regularly. Over the next few days, the problem gets worse and by the end of the week, the photocopier is out of order.

Does all of this sound familiar?

Modern photocopiers do more than single-sided copies. We can reduce, enlarge, change the density, double-side, etc. Of course, this requires training so everyone can get the best out of the machine, but even an adept user would struggle to get the desired results if they are rushing.

I made this Powtoon video for summer school purposes to encapsulate this information and set the standard for best working practice, but the message is applicable to all of us, regardless of our teaching context.

Think twice, do you really need to photocopy?

If you would like to make your own animated explainer video like this, go to:

If you are interested in reading some ideas my colleague JB and I had in regard to social distancing and a return to face-to-face teaching, click here: COVID-19: Social distancing and a return to face-to-face teaching


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s