Beautiful Struggle

“I see beauty in that struggle.”
Kobe Bryant
Kobe has said this a couple of different ways, but whenever he does he is usually talking about a season ending injury and his recovery. Although my students are quite a way from becoming a professional athlete, I found it interesting how this quote mad its’ way into my class.
During one of our math test a student saw me smirking as a couple of students starting throwing mini tantrums when they saw how much work they were going to complete before our test on Friday. And before I could say anything the complaints came rolling in. “All of it… Do by Friday, are you sure?… Why do you hate us?…”
I knew it was a lot but at the same time I knew that with the practice my students would do fine. But after class the student who saw smirk came up to me and asked why I was smiling as I saw them get their work. She asked how could I be so mean. I then challenged her, as a student who understands the material to help her fellow classmates and friends learn the math, and if she did maybe she would get that same smirk.
Throughout the week she did and on Friday morning I asked if her classmates were ready and how things went. She talked about how frustrating it was because at first they did not get the concept, how exhausting it was to just get them to focus and try, how funny some of the outrageous answers were. She mentioned how she was still unsure if the students she helped were going to pass.
I passed out the test and we watched. We watched those same kids who complained look at the test. Two of those students smiled and got to work, the others flipped through the pages stressfully. When the test was over, I graded the assessment. When we looked at the grades they all passed, B+, B+, A, and an A-. My helper was shocked and ecstatic that she was able to help.
I called the students back into class and asked them how they were able to do so well. They attributed their grades to the help and that the test was so much like the classwork. “It was like I knew the question already,” one stated.
When I talked with the class to answer the question about why I smiled when I saw people complaining about the homework, I spilled the beans. I told them that as students they are happy when they see their grades, I told them as their teacher I am happy when I see them get it. I knew that the students who complained knew the material as they had practiced it online already. I took off my shoe (the shoe in the picture above) and told them, I see the beauty in the struggle.
When was the last time you struggled with something? How did you handle it?

Plan in Advance for Your Day(s) Away

Whether for professional development, a family emergency, or a personal illness, there will be days when you will need a substitute teacher to cover during your absence.  As with so many of our responsibilities, it makes good sense to anticipate and plan in advance.  In my experience as a substitute teacher, I appreciate when there is a clear, complete and meaningful lesson plan available when I enter a classroom.

Teachers practice different disciplines with regard to substitute coverage.  I find it most helpful when teachers have developed and use a substitute teacher template that is  populated with important classroom information and the day’s (or days’) lesson instructions.

The elements of the template should be separated and clearly identified (e.g,, Contact Info, Emergency Procedures, Attendance, Classroom Technology, Bathroom Policy, Phone Policy, Lesson Plan, ….).

Contacts, Emergency Procedures, Classroom Policies and Technology

The first part of the template should include contact info and emergency procedures, classroom protocols and policies, and technology information.  This information will be consistent from day to day and can be prepared well in advance of a teacher’s absence.

  • Contact information for key administration office (i.e., front office staff) and helper aides and teachers
  • Information about the school’s emergency procedures and the actions the substitute should take in response to an earthquake, fire or lockdown event or drill;
  • Attendance procedure
  • Bathroom policy, enforcement and actions to take if policy is violated
  • Mobile phone policy, enforcement and actions to take if policy is violated
  • Information about the classroom technology (projector, DVD, laptop, WiFi access, document projector, classroom audio equipment, smart board, …)

Class Information, Roles and Responsibilities, Homework and Lesson Instructions

The second part of the template may be broken out by class/period and includes class information and the lesson plan for the class. The lesson plan may be for a single day or for multiple days depending upon the length of absence.

  • Helpful information about the class (e.g., behavior and discipline matters)
  • Names of students who can assist with class activities
  • Assigned student roles and responsibilities
  • Daily lesson and instructions (homework review, homework to be collected, new class instruction and work to be completed in class, video instructions, handouts, work to be collected at end of class, individual or group activities, new homework assignment, class reminders, …)

It is important to the continuity of your teaching to prepare and provide clear and complete instructions for your substitute teachers.  Your days away from the classroom should not be lost time for your students.  Whether this time is used effectively or not is your responsibility.  Please make the effort to help your substitute teacher be successful in your classroom.

Vaping and Actions to Discourage this Harmful Habit

We know that many young people will experiment with substances they have been told are harmful.  Indeed, many of us experimented with harmful substances in our own youth. Familiar substances include cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana.

Experimentation by students continues in our schools today, but by way of a modern invention – Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS).  ENDS come in many different shapes and sizes and are referred to by a number of names including vapes, vaporizers, vape pens, hookah pens, e-cigarettes and e-pipes.  They can resemble pens, cigarettes and even USB flash drives.  Indeed, some of these devices are designed to charge directly from a laptop’s USB port.

These products use an oil-based “e-liquid” that may contain nicotine and varying compositions of flavorings, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and other ingredients.  The liquid is heated to over 400°F and inhaled as a vapor.  Significantly, “other ingredients” may include THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid produced by the marijuana plant.

Suspected health risks associated with vaping include heart disease, a weakened immune system, gum disease, chronic bronchitis (smoker’s cough), and depression.  Common sense tells us that inhaling a vapor heated to over 400°F and contains some of the same carcinogens as cigarettes cannot be healthful.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse recently reported that in 2016, 13.3% of 8th graders, 23.9% of 10th graders and 27.8% of 12th graders acknowledged vaping one or more times during the year.  The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that e-cigarette use among high-school and middle-school students has increased by more than 10-fold and by nine-fold, respectively, since 2011.

The practice of vaping is growing in popularity and is much harder to detect than traditional cigarettes.  The small device size and the invisible vapor make it much easier for vaping to go undetected.  It is far too easy for young people to obtain vape devices and paraphernalia.  One study showed a successful online buy rate over 90% by 14 to 17-year olds, and nearly all deliveries were simply left at the door.

An article in the February 2016 issue of the journal Pediatrics by Alain Braillon, public-health senior consultant, and whistle-blower, bluntly stated that “ENDS [electronic nicotine delivery systems] have the potential to addict a new generation of youth to nicotine and reverse more than 50 years of progress in tobacco control”.

The legalization of THC-based oils makes vaping even more dangerous for young people.  THC oils have the potency of traditional marijuana products and are used with easy to conceal vape pens and similar devices.

It is important for teachers, administrators and other school personnel to be aware of the growing use and inherent dangers of vaping by students.  It is also important that school staff are vigilant and report suspicious behavior.   Students who vape TCH oils will exhibit mood changes within minutes of their vaping episode.  Teachers are in the best position to observe unusual behavior and should not hesitate to call for assistance if a student is behaving in an odd and unusual way.  Behavior can range from lethargy to hyperactivity, depending on the student.

It is important to discourage vaping of any substance in the school and on campus.  The industry is not well regulated and the number of different chemicals, including nicotine, will vary widely from one brand to another.  While it is not reasonable to expect schools to eliminate vaping on campus, there is much that can be done to reduce its occurrence.

Teachers should enforce stricter rules on how many students are allowed to leave the classroom and for how long.  Teachers are inviting trouble when they allow two or more students to leave at the same time.  Students should be required to sign out before leaving a classroom.  They should leave their cell phones and book bags in the classroom and carry a hall pass.  We want to deter students from using their cell phones to coordinate rendezvous with other students.  Students who are out of the classroom for more than ten minutes should be reported to the administration office for further action.

Teachers should familiarize themselves with vaping paraphernalia so that they can identify it if students show it openly to classmates.  Teachers who suspect illegal possession or use of vape devices should report their suspicions to the appropriate office administrators.

School administration should educate and communicate the dangers of vaping to the student body.  Subject matter experts may be invited on campus to speak with the students.  These speakers may include former students who developed a nicotine (or other) addiction after vaping on a regular and frequent basis.

Signage that discourages vaping and shows the risks of vaping can be posted around campus. Students taking biology, health, anatomy and chemistry classes could be engaged to investigate the harms of vaping and to communicate their findings to the student body through online discussion boards, presentations and campus messaging campaigns.

Athletic team coaches and PE teachers should be encouraged to speak to their students about the harms and risks of vaping.  And we must not leave out the parents.  The parents play an important role in educating and discouraging their children from practicing this addictive habit.  School administrators should communicate to the parents the ongoing efforts by the school to educate, raise awareness and reduce the occurrence of vaping on campus.  This communication is the opportunity to reach out to the parent community to actively engage the parents in this effort.  This will help ensure that the messaging and education are consistent on campus and off campus.  School administration should share information about the harms and risks so that the parents have the information they need to help their children make healthier choices.

There is no simple solution to reducing and discouraging vaping by middle school and high school age students.  The effort begins with clear communication by parents, teachers, administrators and health professionals about the risks and harms associated with vaping.  The entire school community needs to be informed and engaged in helping students make the right choices.  We want to do all we can so that our children have a healthful, caring and supportive environment in which to learn.  The actions described above will contribute to this important goal.

The smartboard is still on vacation…

I love having a smartboard in my classroom. There are countless ways to use it, and the students love when they get to use it in interactive lessons. It is definitely a wonderful tool for the classroom.

Unfortunately though, like with all things technology, it doesn’t always work.

One of the first things I do when I arrive to work is power up the smartboard to see if its up to working that day. Most days it fires right up, ready to rock n’ roll. But of course there are days when it decides it needs a new bulb (which requires a work order to be put in, and that can take a day or two to get signed off) or it just decides to blink on and off.

While my students love the smartboard, the inconsistencies of when it works have become normal for them. When we started back to school from winter break the students started saying, “the smartboard is still on vacation” when it decides not to work. They think its hilarious, and also started betting on whether it is going to work or not each day.

At least they find humor in it! I on the other hand have adopted the habit of planning two ways to implement my lessons. That way I am not left hanging when the smartboard takes a day off!

Sorry I’m late…

Most people who know me know that I am a stickler for routine and consistency. Especially with my kindergarten students.

In my class, every morning right at 8:15, my students are welcomed into the classroom and immediately they turn in their homework folders and place their lunches and backpacks in their cubbies. They make their way to their desks and once everyone is ready, we say morning prayer together and the Pledge of Allegiance. This routine works well for my students. They know what they can expect every morning when they enter the classroom.

It never fails though, just about every morning right in the middle of morning prayer or the pledge, we hear a knock on the door. And just about every morning when I welcome that same student into the classroom, he enters with his uniform disheveled and is typically scarfing down a powdered donut or a frosted poptart.

Not only is he still trying to fill his tummy to hold him over until snack-time, he still has to turn in his homework and put his lunch and backpack away before making his way to his desk and joining the rest of the class. 

The beginning of the year he would anxiously rush into the classroom and rush to  get caught up. As the year has progressed, and he is still late more days than not, his rushed demeanor has turned into him strolling into the classroom and him now taking his sweet time to unpack and make his way to his desk.

On my end, I have sent numerous emails to his parents about how important it is to have their son to school on time. I have also had conversations with them at conferences. Each email and conversation has included the school’s tardy policy straight from the handbook. Nothing has changed. What else can I do?

The boy is 6. It’s not his fault he is habitually late to school. He is only in kindergarten, and I have seen a change in his demeanor since the beginning of the school year. He is defeated. How is this going to affect his attitude towards school?

I can’t help but wonder what kind of impact being habitually late to school has on students.

Yes, I did take your child’s phone.

The classroom policy is clear.

Phones are not allowed in Mr. Palowitch’s classroom.

Your student knows that phones must be away and out of sight during class. You and your child signed the syllabus where this policy is stated.

If I see a phone, I will take it. I will attach a piece of tape to the phone with their name and period written on it. The phone is turned into the attendance office where the student can pick it up at the end of the day. The attendance office records the offense, and on the second occurence, you will receive a phone call.

There are rare times I allow phones to be used for schoolwork. Emphasis on the word “schoolwork“. When students have time in class to complete their math work and there is time remaining, I will clearly state that students may use the rest of the class to do schoolwork. Mine is a working classroom; not a gaming room, not a social gathering, not a music sharing party. They can look up their grades on Q, look up assignments, do research, and read. That is schoolwork.

If I took your child’s phone it is for one of two reasons.

  1. During class, the student was using their phone. Usually they are using it in a manner where they think I can not see them. Really. They really think so. They’ll learn quickly enough.
  2. When phones can be used for schoolwork, they were using it for non-schoolwork. Again, they are using it in a manner where they think I don’t know what they are doing. Really. They really think so. It is obvious what gaming behavior looks like. It is obvious what facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram user interfaces look like. It is obvious that showing/sharing your phone in a jovial manner is not schoolwork. It is obvious that when you are wearing a hoodie you just might be hiding your earbud wires or airpods.

You can help by letting your child know you understand and support the policy 100%. Let your child know you expect them to utilize the entire class time for learning. Make sure your student has a book in their backpack to read in the unusual event they have no homework.

If your student comes home and exclaims “Mr. Palowitch took my phone!”, it might just help to say, “Good for you!”



Chromebooks, the Internet and applications are used in Mr. Palowitch’s classroom.

For a larger context of my classroom, know that we are using Chromebooks, the Internet, Google Classroom, and many math and language applications. PUSD provides Chromebooks for each student in my classroom. These laptops are used only in my classroom and remain there.

The students know for what purpose we are using the Chromebooks, and they know the appropriate use of the Chromebook for their other classes. The key policy is:

Use the Chromebook for only the schoolwork you have been assigned. Use of the Chromebook for personal use is not allowed in Mr. Palowitch’s classroom and will result in removal of your privilege to use the Chromebook.

Points 1) and 2) above about phone usage apply to the Chromebook. Students think they can swipe away their game or social media browser tabs without the teacher noticing, that gaming finger postures are not noticeable, or that more than one person laughing or joking around a computer is schoolwork.

You can help by letting your child know you understand and support both the cell phone and Chromebook policies 100%. Let your child know you expect them to utilize the entire class time for learning.

Together we can create a classroom learning environment where every student thrives.

When Murphy Calls

“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” — Murphy’s Law

Last Fall, Murphy called, unannounced, as usual.

I was in the second week of being a new high school Algebra and Geometry teacher. Ten minutes into a ninety minute block period in the middle of a lecture using a computer and projector, the power went out in the classroom.

Most power interruptions are brief. “Class – let’s wait a few seconds for the power to come back on.” After checking a few of the other outlets and sixty seconds later I went to the next door classroom to see if they have power. They do. When I return, the classroom was in the beginning stages of out-of-control buzz.

Grabbing the textbook I said “From what we’ve just covered, you should be able to do the first 5 homework problems. Take out a sheet of paper and begin.” That should last about ten minutes I said to myself. The vision of going the entire day without power was starting to form.

I placed a call to the administration office and requested (probably demanded) the maintenance staff come over to help. When they arrived, I asked they run a long extension cord out the window from the neighboring classroom into my classroom window and up to the front desk. All I need is the computer and projector to run.

The maintenance staff went off to get started and I stood in front of the class. Most of them had finished the first five problems. “Alright, let’s see if I can remember my lecture!” The projector screen was rolled up and the marker started to fly across the whiteboard. The students settled back down.

I don’t remember if I made any sense. In those early days of teaching I had my ‘script’ down to the sentence and practiced the night before. I am sure I skipped a few key points. The maintenance staff returned and proceeded to run the extension cord between the two classrooms out through the window. I assigned the remaining homework problems so I could assist with the power cord.

With a little climbing, acrobatics and disappearing beneath dusty desks, I had power to the computer and projector. I thanked the maintenance staff and resumed class. We went through the powerpoint lecture and sure enough, I had indeed skipped several key points and needed to review a few problem solving examples.

The power cord out the window remained in place for most of the day.

I learned later the classroom on the other side was undergoing electrical system maintenance. An electrician had pulled the circuit breaker for that classroom and unknowingly cut power to my classroom.

One of my colleagues I spoke to about Murphy’s unannounced visit remarked that students respond well when the teacher is ‘in control’. I can imagine teachers everywhere encountering situations far more exciting than losing power.

The learning here is when Murphy calls, be flexible and ready to improvise, while demonstrating problem solving to your students.

When has Murphy called on you? Tell us your story of how you answered his call!

Tech Support

“When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”
– Alexander den Heijer.

When my group decided to make a blog centered on our at school experiences, I’ll be honest, I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t think of anything to write. So this being my first blog post ever, I hope I do my group justice.

In my 6th Grade Class, we start a lot of our Language Arts assignments with a percept, so I instinctively am doing the same here.

Today, I told my class that I signed them up for a nationwide challenge in Mathletics, an online math program that is provided by our school. It is a competition where students compete in activities based on the math curriculum to earn points which will hopefully earn them rank and prizes. As you can image, this got their blood flowing, got them pumped up, got them excited. But then I had to tell them that in order to earn points they would have to incorporate the use of Mathletics to their at home and after school agenda. Boo!

At this point the attitude of the class dropped, not all but most weren’t as exhilarated and it was at this point that I thought of Heijer’s quote.

When thinking of needing to “fix the environment” there’s obviously the kids who dislike homework, not that these activities are homework but it can be considered school stuff at home, not cool. Then there are those with the extra curricular, complaining that with the homework they already have, and practice, and dinner, and being tired, and having to shower, and brush teeth, and chores and this and that; there is no time. Just like with anyone who hears this story, I’m sure you know how this environment needs to be fixed but that’s not what struck the chord.

I had a student come up to, on the side, away from the class, to tell me, that he would not be able to earn his share of points. Confident in his skills and work ethic I asked why.

“I don’t have a computer at home. I don’t have a phone or Ipad. I don’t even have wifi…”

In my own classroom there isn’t enough computers or iPads for one to one hence they reason why my students are grouped in the picture. With all the technology being used in schools and classrooms all around the nation, I stopped to think about this competition. And how many students from coast to coast, who like my student don’t have what most people consider to be essential. People who use the internet for entertainment, for cat videos and memes, for hating and commenting and the a thumbs up. People who don’t realized that not having wifi, while being a #firstworldproblem, is an actual close to home, real life problem that needs to be addressed, needs to be fixed.

Take a closer look at your home. Think about the kids you know. Is there a lack of technology at home? As Heijer, so eloquently stated, there is nothing wrong with the flowers, its is how it grows, where it grows, and when it grows…

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