Why I Let My Kid Skip School (to come to My Defense)

The school-skipping offender – and his pup

I let my son skip the first day of his high school junior year this week.

I’m pretty sure it was a more difficult decision for me than for him.

Like most parents who care about their kids’ success, I didn’t want my son to miss out on any key information – like his new locker combination.

I didn’t want him to get behind before the school year had even started – especially behind some cute little gal who’d swing her hair all over his desk during the school year because he missed getting a seat up front, near the teacher. (Surely, that’s where he always tries to sit.)

I didn’t want him to miss out on the excitement of those first few magical moments of a new school year – the high-fashion runway reunions that are only surpassed by the final few hours of summer bum hang-out plans that will now have to wait until about 300 days into the future.

But my son wasn’t having it any other way. He wasn’t going to take ‘No’ for an answer.

Do you think that makes me a weak-minded parent?

If so –

Let me take you back 5 years, to the beginning of his first day in middle school.

That’s when we began our new journeys together. He was transitioning into a new school, where he didn’t know anyone…and so was his mom. (Different school, different anyones.)

He was entering a world where the development of personal organizational skills would be just as imperative as grasping the meaning of girls’ eyes being batted at him with curves trickier than hard hit baseballs – to which he was only otherwise accustomed.

I was entering a world where my batting average of organizational skills would be the only means by which I was going to stay in the game of academia. No sooner had I dropped my son off for that first week of school and gotten my work day in, than I was sitting in a classroom of new colleagues myself. My class was on its way to forming robust doctoral candidates – and sturdy support systems for one another.

I’m happy to report that both my son and I made immediate and long-lasting friends during our week of firsts…and we’ve both honed our organizational and study skills over these past 5 years (while he’s apparently honed his girl-reading skills during that time too). Much of that (not the girl-stuff) came from many study sessions and hours of commiserating – not always solely with our peers, but quite often with one another.

I can think back to one evening at the table when my 7th grade son discovered that, with his new-found algebraic skills, he could easily perform my graduate statistics textbook equations. From there, he double-checked my homework answers for me, assuring me I should get a 100% on my assignment.

I can think back to an 8th grade science project where my son tapped into the collegiate research process to develop his research poster methodology, which he then had to explain in detail to his science teacher to receive a grade. (The more popular ‘swiping water faucets for germs experiment’ doesn’t generally require mixed methods of study.)

And I think back on my past few years of ‘bleacher classes’ – all of those evenings when my textbooks, articles, and my own research work were strewn across seasons of both indoor and outdoor bleachers – just so I could attend all of my son’s sporting events to cheer on his stellar athletic feats. (Yes, I’m a mom. Of course they were all stellar. No, I don’t ordinarily work the word ‘strewn’ into my everyday conversations.)

From the beginning, my son understood that my goal was to beat him – meaning that I hoped to graduate before he did. We might have even gotten a little competitive about it on occasion. There were times when I wasn’t sure I would make that goal. But as of this week, my day finally came. After a huge push of collecting the final data in my longitudinal study, carefully analyzing the information, and working to best communicate the results during this past year…

My Day of Defense Arrived!

Unfortunately, my dissertation defense was scheduled later than I had anticipated, what with research never quite going as planned, the scheduling of my own students’ graduation, and then some of my committee members out of town (or even out of the country).

I was extremely disappointed when I learned that my defense wouldn’t take place until the morning of my son’s first day of school. I had wanted him to be there to experience my defense – to see the final product of the past several years of our educational journey together…but not at the cost of him missing his first day of school. I come from a long line of teachers, you see, so this was pretty much a commandment growing up: “Thou shalt not miss school.” That rule was so ingrained in me that I even stayed at my desk at the age of 10, doubled over with a fever – at least until my appendix eventually gave way and exploded.

Despite me pulling out the engraved commandment stone (albeit cracked from misuse at some point during my mid-teen years), my son wasn’t going to have it any other way. He argued that he would only be missing 2 or 3 morning classes. He argued that he wouldn’t be missing any information that he couldn’t gather the next day. He argued that even his teachers would agree it was important for him to see a doctoral defense – that it would inspire him in his own post-high school education. And then, when all else failed, he pulled out the big guns and aimed. He argued that we had started this journey together, and he wanted to see it to completion. Didn’t I, after all, plan on being there for him when his school years concluded?

On the morning of my defense, there he sat – along with other family members who surprised me by changing their work schedules drastically (meaning they were supposed to be in other cities and states) to be there in a showing of support for me. As I took my first breath to begin my defense, I knew immediately that all was well. Had I stumbled over my words or my feet, had I bumbled the entire presentation and been at a complete loss for words, I realized that none of that truly mattered. This day was complete. I was supported greatly in love.

My youngest son wasted no time getting a ride back from my colleagues the minute my presentation was over – since I had to stay to meet with my dissertation committee for a final time. In his lack of words, I heard the message. My son was assuring me that his academics were important to him too.

I didn’t see him again until late that evening, when he finally came in from his football practice – hot, tired, and hungry. As he sat his backpack and gym bag down, he walked over to me, hugged me up and said, “Mom, you did a great job today. I wouldn’t have missed that for the world.”

I’m pretty sure it was his way of saying that he was glad I’d let him skip school – and maybe (just maybe) that I’d even beaten him to graduation.

Making the Difference…Some Day? This Day!

I stood proudly this week as another of my classes walked for graduation. It’s always amazing to me to look at how confidently this group of health care providers marches across the stage when thinking back to how uncertain they were on the first few days of their program orientation (where we inevitably lose at least one of them to uncertainty); to how inadequate they feel after the first few weeks of performing clinical duties (where we often lose at least another due to indecisiveness); to how exhausted they feel after just one semester (where we occasionally even lose at least another to lack of resilience).

I don’t apologize for the demands this intensive program places on our students – because I don’t want to ever feel apologetic to the patients with whom they’ll come in contact for the education and training they received while under my watch. Our students are dedicated, so they understand this. And that’s why they ultimately become such dedicated health CARE professionals.

Last year, I had a student who decided to use his iPad to journal his way through the program – and who often provided me with his raw, unedited thoughts that resonated with varying emotions. With his permission, I’d like to share a couple of those journal clips today. The first is from very early in his program experience; the second, from his final class days, where he was taking his final final exam (as he explains). Take time to note the difference in the hair growth too. By graduation day, his ears had been lowered again to their early program status!

Early Journal Entry (a student perspective after being accepted into & entering the program)

Final Journal Entry (a student perspective of coming out on the other side…)

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What’s Your Blood Type? Mine apparently is O-Teaching-Positive!

I lost my parents very early in life. If that wasn’t already going to be a potential educational setback, I found myself pregnant at the wise age of 17 (when you don’t necessarily worry about an education because you already know everything). I don’t really want to revisit the negative aspects surrounding the particular night of how that happened. Besides, it really doesn’t matter anymore. I moved on from there and have never once regretted being a mom. I see each one of my children as a blessing from heaven; they’ve made me a better person all the way around. But I had to support us.

I graduated high school early and had to choose a career path quickly because I’d just been inducted into the adult world. The experience wasn’t as wonderfully freeing as I’d once envisioned. I was able to get an associate’s degree while working part-time and was blessed to obtain a piecemeal education throughout my early career years, eventually adding on a bachelor’s degree. Funny how, just when you believe you’ve gotten your life on course, fate chooses a different path for you to travel. Out of the blue, I was asked to begin a health career program and to teach within it. Along came my master’s degree, truthfully in a field I had never set out to master. Needless to say, I didn’t feel worthy, didn’t feel prepared.

I don’t know why, but I found myself expressing those doubts one evening at church, while explaining my career shift to those listening: “I never imagined myself being a teacher.”

That was the moment when everything connected for me, as my pastor’s wife, a teacher herself, matter-of-factly proclaimed, “Why, I don’t know how you could have expected to be anything else. Your father was a teacher. Your mother was a teacher. Your aunt and uncle were teachers. You even had a sister who was a teacher. How could you not have become a teacher? Dear, teaching is in your blood.”

One of my students working on dissecting a pig's heart. (Told you teaching was in the blood - groan, I know.)

One of my students working on dissecting a pig’s heart. (Told you teaching was in the blood – groan, I know.)  See important disclaimers below.

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Trifecta has a bit of an eerie air in preference, so it comes as no surprise that this week’s writing word challenge would be BLOOD.

However, check your rear view mirror carefully. Not because anything creepy is sneaking up behind you (or maybe it is!), but because the third definition is creepily sneaky. This week’s third choice in definition is:

BLOOD (noun)

3 a : lifeblood; broadly : life

As always during the weekly challenge, 33-333 word count. Mine came in at 333 this week. See what I mean about eerily creepy? (Cue the Thriller music & the Vincent Price voice here.)
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Disclaimer: No pigs were hurt in the writing of this blog. Well, except for the one being dissected. But that was going to take place anyway.

Next Disclaimer: No responsibility can be taken for any emotional damage incurred by this pig’s close family members viewing this blog site. Pigs are not allowed on this Web site. No, it was not Wilbur; so E.B. White cannot make any claims either.

Teacher’s Pet

Michelle from WordPress pressed: Tell us about a teacher who had a real impact on your life, either for the better or the worse. How is your life different today because of him or her?

In a time when teachers have ridiculous outcome expectations flung upon them in the midst of conditions where it becomes nearly impossible for many of them to actually teach, I’m so glad you asked this question, Michelle. I am so long overdue in giving out some necessary thank yous…


“Give me a child and I’ll shape him into anything.”
-B.F. Skinner


If I had a time machine, there are two classrooms I would surely enjoy going back to revisit now that I have a meta-cognitive awareness of why the teachers who conducted sessions within them were two among my very short list of favorites. Though these teachers taught me at extremely different times in my K-12 educational experience and though their subject matters were quite different, these ladies both possessed common factors in their instructional approaches. As a matter of fact, my admiration and respect has grown immensely more, if I thought that were even possible, in my realization that these women had a firm awareness of their learning theory preferences and went to great lengths to assure they actively engaged their learners in these philosophies and practices.

Faye Duke was my third grade teacher. In the 1970’s, this sweet, bubbly, petite blonde, who wore modern polyester mini-dresses well enough that all the boys in our class still have a crush on her to this day, looked as if she should not yet be out of high school herself. I suppose an active classroom of 8 to 9-year-olds could have made a late breakfast of her, but she kept us far too busy in activities from the time we walked in until the time we left each day for us to dream up any trouble (short of a couple of stolen cheek kisses at the bottom row of the back bookshelf).

How the 3rd grade boys saw Miss Duke when she walked into the classroom.Image Courtesy of CBC Player Web site

How the 3rd grade boys saw Miss Duke when she walked into the classroom.
Image Courtesy of CBC Player Web site

Miss Duke’s philosophy obviously included the importance of establishing and engaging learners as a community. Though our curriculum was rigorous, including learning our multiplication tables and how to write in cursive, we never seemed to have the sense that we were slaving away in school. Because she vibrantly and excitedly approached every new topic as an adventure, we believed her, enjoying every moment of what we accomplished together. We learned our telephone manners with desks facing one another, authentic telephones in hand. We learned to set extracurricular goals together, such as helping one another prepare for the upcoming spelling bee, putting together a mini-choir for our school’s talent show, and quizzing one another on newfound math skills. We created our own poetry and illustrated our own stories; and, in some aging teacher’s attic, there may yet be a copy of a story about Roxy the Rabbit, written and illustrated in an educator’s magazine by a 9-year-old elementary student named Jody Love. The pages of the magazine may be faded, but the social learning environment set up by Miss Duke has not. Though I left that elementary school the following year and it has now been many forgotten a few years since, I have reconnected with many of my prior third grade classmates, via Facebook; and we still vividly recall our experiences from that year, enthusiastically sharing them with one another.

Sylvia Wade entered my life as I began my sophomore year of high school.  My new Spanish I instructor was tall and willowy in shape, with dark, wavy hair and cinnamony-brown skin. As a woman of Puerto Rican heritage teaching in a predominantly white southern middle-class school, no one would have ever thought to question her authority in her position anymore than her expertise in her subject matter. Differences were only beautiful comparisons to be esteemed in her classroom. She had a way of easily blending everyone into a like-minded community that could have the power to end all prejudice in the world if her magical formula could somehow be bottled and distributed. With immensely warm cheerfulness, she conducted her class sessions with a welcoming sense of humor that caused people to look forward to being in her presence. During my two years of Spanish with Ms. Wade, I learned to conjugate verbs and carry on conversations (well, sort of) without ever feeling as if the tasks were mundane or too far out of my ability’s grasp. As her students, we performed quite a bit of role play, eventually getting beyond the embarrassed giggling (okay, not always) to making pragmatic preparations for the day when we might take a future Senior Spanish trip with our beloved, bilingual teacher to Mexico. (Unfortunately, I left a year too soon and missed that trip – but I came to realize the educational journey was the most important trip I’d made.)

Ms. Wade’s missed runway calling (had she not answered a higher one to teach).Photo courtesy of: http://aloftyexistence.wordpress.com/2010/12/01/top-black-models-of-the-decade-2000-2010/

Ms. Wade’s missed runway calling (had she not answered a higher one to teach).
Photo courtesy of: http://aloftyexistence.wordpress.com/2010/12/01/top-black-models-of-the-decade-2000-2010/

Judgment was never attached to who could or couldn’t roll their r’s or how badly we might have interpreted during our extemporaneous exercises. Rather, we were praised for our attempts as we all laughed together, helping one another stumble through the transition of forming Spanish words from English thoughts, self-assessing our improvement as we went. I remember a surprise visit from our principal once, who entered a classroom full of laughter with a stern expression on his face. Ms. Wade approached him warmly, patted him on the back, and teasingly explained to her class that our principal thought all we did was play in there. We were suddenly proud to be able to showcase our learning so we might assure him otherwise. That was the only smile I ever saw from him during his tenure as my principal. He, too, seemed pleased with what was being accomplished there.

I’ve recently reflected on the brilliance of how these two women inspired me and others like me to believe we weren’t getting a traditional scholastic experience. They tricked us, if you will, into learning more than we realized in what appeared to be an informal, social setting. Furthermore, our retention was obviously greatly enhanced, as I cannot describe many other classrooms in which I have attended from those early years or remember many other teachers to the extent that I am able with these two, nor have I maintained many other peer relationships from those years in which we discuss other teachers to the extent that has been so with these two instructional matrons. In essence, these women have become ghost mentors to model in my own instructional career. It would be a natural extension of that admiration, then, for me to reflect upon and enact these associated theoretical beliefs and learning philosophies.

In revisiting my two ghost mentors, Miss Duke and Ms. Wade, I readily subscribe to the notion that learners are more greatly impacted by delivery related to context rather than content. It is within a carefully planned and engaging environment that a learner has the ability to combine cognitive, behavioral, affective and social learning domains to make a lasting connection with the content being introduced or reinforced. Attention to this procedural aspect of obtaining knowledge likely enhances the attaining of conceptual knowledge. Both of my ghost mentors actively engaged me with application in what I was learning. They gave me glimpses of how I would procedurally interact with such content in future contexts, aspiring me to achieve greater goals (such as being published or traveling to another country) than I might otherwise have thought possible for myself. These women were change agents, bringing innovation to the classroom that learners eagerly adopted because it was radically different from the boring means by which we had otherwise been forced to endure instruction as recipients of a sometimes mundane educational process. The only contextual meaning of social education we otherwise understood was being packed together into a classroom of crammed-into desks and told not to communicate with one another – else, we would be negatively disciplined. Such a structure of formal public education did not truly equate to social learning, the element that seems to be key in the motivation I experienced in my then-indiscernible apprenticeship with my ghost mentors.

These two teachers were also active facilitators within their settings, purposely leaving their own desk space to become actively engaged within their designed learning communities. Miss Duke surrounded us with her lively presence, even singing with our little choir on stage to support us. Ms. Wade immersed us into another culture, taking her classes with her to another land, whether she was helping us bumble through interpretations in our classroom with our southern accents or leading groups of seniors to Mexico (to roll r’s in mixed accents). Both of these ladies created the means for positive affective synaptic connections to learning, praising us when we were right or praising us for our attempts, so we would have the courage to tackle the problem set before us once again. They brought their learners into a Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky), teaching us to be facilitators of one another, operating as resource exchange agents in our problem solving development, providing motivation through stimulated emotional satisfaction. This, too, is the sort of community in which I want my own students to develop as they make choices to engage and reside within it.

How can you not like love a teacher who strives to help you like what you’ve accomplished in yourself?

In the words of Sylvia Wade, herself…Con mucho cariño. -j

Wearin’ ON the Green

 

Go Green!!

(Specifically, get ON your Green with Sports Participation – whether it’s a green jersey, a field of green, or if you’re green but willing!)

Below, my son (far right) gets to come out showing his pride with his Green Team.

Headed to the Playoffs

Here he is, breaking loose and flying down the green, due to help from his awesome teammates:

Goal-Driven

Catch onto The Benefits of GoingGreen (with Sports Participation):

Promotion of a Healthy Lifestyle with Good Nutrition and Exercise Choices

Environment that Promotes Goal Setting towards Achievement

Elevated Self-Esteem and Others’-Esteem with the Incorporation of a Team Encouragement Mentality

Environment that Learns to Deal with Conflict Management Fairly (through Rule-Setting) and Respectfully (through Authority Management of Coaches, Referees, Umpires)

Learning to Diplomatically Deal with Disappointments in Life (loss against other teams, delays in development or due to injuries)

Learning to Reassess Responsibly and Practically

There are also Practical Warnings that must be heeded here:

Though all of the above points serve to point out how sports participation build character, when taken to the extreme, any wrongfully-enacted point can do damage to a child’s character just as easily. Examples include:

A coach (or parent) who drives forward with a goal of winning at all costs will ultimately damage self-esteem and a child’s ability to form lasting relationships.

Athletes who are pushed to take supplements that can have negative health effects or allowed to continue playing with injuries are not going to learn healthy lifestyle choices.

Sports participation should be emphasized as PART of a holistic educational approach, with the understanding that everyone has their own talents and interests. Children should be allowed to experiment and choose based on a balance of these. Extra-curricular programs can allow students who do not make school teams to continue on with a sport of interest; while even natural athletes shouldn’t feel forced to play something in which a talent may be evident, but interest is not.

Competition should not be OVER-emphasized OR UNDER-emphasized. Children must understand how to lose and win honorably and respectably/respectfully. Awards are goals for which we can strive, but also serve to teach us to applaud those who reach a little further to achieve them. Participation awards should be carefully considered and sparingly disbursed, as they can actually serve to water down the meaning of achievement and sportsmanship.

There is nothing more inspirational than…

to watch an athlete respectably lose and then remain to joyfully cheer on his or her opponent with that same level of respect. Whenever I witness this, I always walk away feeling as though I witnessed a rare champion who is going to go far in life.

Feed the Green in You!

President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition Participate in Programs Page

To see how other bloggers are “Wearin’ Green” this week, go to the

Weekly Photo Challenge: Green.

A Global Blogger’s Needs Assessment: In Honor of International Education Week

As both an educator and a student (yes, I’m still in school, working on my doctorate – which means my college students understand they’re ‘out of luck’ when it comes to complaining about assignments I give them versus their busy schedules), as well as a proponent of education, in general (as I tend to prescribe to the notion that a little bit of knowledge and wisdom can go a long way in solving problems), I want to take this opportunity to honor

Click the logo to connect with IEW

IEW takes on significant meaning for many this year who might otherwise take their educational experiences for granted, as this past month, the world has been faced with the disturbing example of Malala Yousufzai and other young Pakistani women paying much higher prices than the rising tuitions of which many in our country complain.

Most recently, for me it takes on the significance of Hope for South Sudanese children – both boys and girls – their country recovering from a war-torn zone and offering new hope through education within their villages.

The Hope Kinder-Garden School

A few years back, as the e-Community was pioneering viable global educational opportunities, I was privileged to have gotten published, along with a few of my colleagues also specializing in distance e-Learning, on the subject of the Global Needs Assessment (in the AACE Journal, 2005). I believe some of the thoughts that were presented in that paper also apply to good blogging principles. I think I’ll let today’s contribution highlight those with a new focus on “The Blog.”

The first step in ‘Instructional’ Design

is the Needs Assessment –

determining the GAP between “what is” and “what should be.”

A good blog should define its necessity and should take into consideration the audience that is being addressed (which is often global and diverse).

Let’s face it. If you were doing this blog ‘just for you,’ you’d see no need in publishing it on the Web. (I will accept ‘just for my ego’ as an alternate need fulfillment explanation; but if you’re no longer your own audience, there might be some good advice for you to glean somewhere down this page.)

Here are but a few highlights to consider:

  • Recognize there are risks and uncertainties in what is being communicated. (Hope that if you are misunderstood, you have the opportunity to explain yourself /or/ simply realize your position may be controversial and decide if you are prepared to be disputed.)
  • Develop a collaborative relationship. (Encourage interaction. And that you will eventually lose it if there is no respect in understanding.)
  • Be attuned to the needs of your readership and how to best support them. (This ordinarily requires respectful interaction.)
  • Target the lowest common denominator of technology. (If you have a snazzy video, great! But also consider including a lower resolution image to be helpful to those who may not have the bandwidth to support your original offering.)

Cultural Implications

Values and Traditions

Freedom to express oneself or off-handed humor may be perfectly normal in one culture, while viewed as impolite in another. Many cultures view an instructor as an expert who is not to be questioned; while others view the instructor as a facilitator to conduct debates and stretch the student beyond one’s own views.

Let’s face it. I may have inflamed someone reading early in this post by backing the right of education for females. And, to a degree, I have to respect the fear that comes with a change that can threaten members of a society. However, I also firmly believe that a culture cannot thrive without education – even if it means allowing beliefs to be tested so someone can decide for themselves why they are firmly rooted in that value system. (And I can NEVER agree with making victims in order to support a cause or belief.)

In the blog setting, you are only an authority because you’ve deemed yourself to be so. If your readership has made that decision in conjunction with you, do not abuse that authority. Admit that your views are based on understandings of your culture and your experiences.

Practice and Application of Learning

Depending on the blogging audience you’ve attracted, you might not expect to receive a massive number of comments or even ‘likes.’ I know that news is disappointing; but realize that some cultures (or sub-cultures) learn merely through quiet observance; while others enjoy taking a participatory role.

Remember this when you’re reading comments on your blogs. You may not be receiving feedback regarding the needs of your entire readership. You might try to survey your readership periodically through investigative surveys or by leaving contact information where readers might respond that will not appear for the entire blogging community to view.

Technology Awareness

Many bloggers choose their technology based upon the tools and resources that have been made available to them through the platform. Some bloggers pay to enhance those resources. However, realize that just because you have the ability to produce advanced offerings does not mean that all of your readership has the capability to view them.

Some countries’ analog phone systems don’t support digital connections, and many remote areas have unreliable connections or low bandwidth capabilities. Larger files (such as videos) may not be supported (thus my earlier suggestion to offer alternate, lower-resolution substitutes). You could decide that these audience members aren’t important to you, but in doing so, you may be missing out on some rich future learning experiences of your own!

Also, please be certain to test your own links and file inserts after publishing your work. Nothing will frustrate (and chase away) a readership more quickly than dead links.

Communications

I have a feeling that most readers in the blogging community have a tendency to be more patient and understanding (and likely curious) about the gaps and social faux pas made by bloggers, simply because most of the readership acknowledges that we are lurking in a global setting. (Eek, I just made a faux pas in that last sentence because I don’t know how to make ‘faux pas’ plural in French – maybe one of my readers can help me out!)

I also need to acknowledge how appreciative I am of my blogging friends in this community who honor me by putting their words in English when it is not their primary language – and do so without accusing me of being slovenly for my inability to honor them in that same way. The beauty of the blogging platform is that it does allow for translations to take place through a selected translation setting. However, please be aware that much meaning is lost in words, sentence structure and colloquialisms. Try to remember to explain your meaning when you realize you’re leaning in this direction. (Don’t you just wonder how that came out in some translations?!)

Celebrate the Beauty of Diversity!

Most importantly, embrace the blog! Embrace this community for the very best reason it exists – so that we might experience one another’s cultures in a productive and engaging learning environment!

My most sincere appreciation to all of my new blogging friends who have shared so much of themselves with me these past couple of months!

In the languages in which I can actually say it & know the meaning, from the bottom of my Southern states heart…

Thanks!

Arigato!

Cheers!

Dank je!

Gracias!

Grazie!

Merci!

Salamat! (okay, I’m a little shaky on that last one, even if I have used it in return – or something close as I may have slandered it to pieces)

(Would love for you to add more to the collection – even if it’s a funny, personal colloquialism – by using the comments section!)