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A sign of trouble: teachers taking up hallway duties

By Beth Daley, Globe Staff, 11/15/99

uring precious free periods, Charlestown High School teachers used to meet to share lesson plans, good teaching methods, and better ways to help struggling students.

Now -, a month after a school melee -, most teachers spend those same periods watching a fire alarm. Or an exit door. Or letting students in and out of locked bathrooms.

The school is certainly more orderly than before the fight, but headmaster Michael Fung is fuming over what he said is a waste of money and teachers' valuable time by having them act as hall monitors. The disruptions -, and no extra money in the school's budget -, forced him to make the drastic move, he said.

But as the state rigorously pounds home the need for teachers to meet as often as possible to design curriculum and more creative ways of teaching, Charlestown's roblem raises the question: What should teachers be doing with their free school periods?

``They have so many better things to do with their time,'' Fung said. Before the fight, - which resulted in the arrests of three students, he relied on four security guards to patrol the five-floor school.

``I want teachers to focus on academics, not the fire alarm,'' Fung said. ``I'm basically paying teachers $30 an hour to sit in the hallway. That's what they get paid per hour roughly. And I can't do anything about it. I have no money to hire anyone else.''

Administrative dutyhas been a hallmark of teachers' days in most schools. While scenarios vary widely across the state, teachers usually are given a period every day to prepare for class. Another period in the same day -, or sometimes every second or third day -, is reserved for lunchroom duty or study hall.

In some high schools, such as Norwell, teachers may be assigned to the main lobby to greet visitors and check passes. But in Stoneham -, as in Norwell -, school officials ensure administrative duties are shared and do not interfere with teachers' ability to consult with one another.

At Everett High School, school officials have hired ``class masters,'' - disciplinarians for each grade who patrol hallways and talk to students to help prevent arguments and fights.

``Teachers are here to teach,'' said Thomas M. Gibson, the principal of Everett High School.``That's the bottom line. We have teachers assigned to administrative duties before and after school, but we don't want them as hall monitors. That's not their job.''

Even in other Boston high schools, the focus has been getting teachers out of hallways.

Three years ago, Jeremiah E. Burke High School hired employees specifically to watch hallways. But administrators at other schools said they do not have the funds to do the same. As Charlestown oes, East Boston uses security guards to monitor hallways. But officials there are quick to point out they have not had the same problems Charlestown has had this year. Given the same circumstance, they might have to assign teachers to hall duty, they said.

While it is unfortunate that teachers' common planning time is disrupted, they, - and even some Charlestown teachers, said fire alarms are even more disruptive. Safety must come first, they said.

``There is much more organization now in Charlestown,'' said Mary Lou Ward, a substitute teacher who was watching a basement exit door and fire alarms last week. ``We need hall monitors. But this is not the best way to spend their money.''

Fung did away with teacher hall monitors three years ago when he first came to the school. He had teachers who had the same students meet with one another to try to help boost student achievement. And it worked: Charlestown test scores have improved the most dramatically in Boston in the last two years.

``The common planning time has really helped,'' Fung said. ``Teachers need it.''

Even after last month's student fight prompted by four false alarms in one day -, he resisted assigning teachers to hall duties. Instead, he assigned administrators. But there were not enough so he began assigning teachers of electives. Still low on hall monitors since eight to 10 are needed every period he began breaking up common planning time for teachers. Some teachers have gotten creative. Nearly every morning at 7:300th-grade teachers and an intern pull up chairs in front of their assigned spot: a bathroom.

Last week, the group discussed students' work habits as they watched the hallway.

``We meet and sometimes we can accomplish things, but it can get distracting, checking student passes and things like that,'' Kathleen Dawson said.

Her colleague Fran Cooper, who teaches biology, said it is not ideal but it has made the school safer.

``We need people in the halls,'' she said. ``So we just all have to pitch in.''

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 11/15/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

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