Tag Archives: teaching experiences

Root Words and Uncanned Laughter


I believe it was the first day after Winter Break last January in the first hour of the school day – math class. I don’t remember the unit, something with geometry. I remember always having trouble as a kid with the directions of horizontal and vertical so I was trying to get it to stick. Or trying to get anything to stick because it was the first day back. We all had cobwebs in our brains. Clearly.

As I do every year, I asked them to think about the root word of horizontal. This year, instead of the expected “horizon,” they all shouted “hor” in the most innocent, trying to pay attention and clear their head of cobwebs way possible. Half of them laughed uncontrollably while the other half laughed because everyone was laughing uncontrollably. You know, the kind of laughing when you don’t know why people are laughing but you can’t help but join?

I, the obvious leader of the classroom who normally can keep the train on the track with a straight face as needed, had to take a few seconds to gather my thoughts. I can’t even begin to explain the need to bring them back to math and away from what had just happened, as innocent as it was. I was already dreading the parent e-mails and phone calls that would surely pour in, but thankfully did not. Unfortunately, the class saw that I was missing a beat and that caused the laughter to only grow.

We did eventually move on, but it is still a moment that I will never forget. I learned a few things from this experience. First off, I will never again ask for the root word of horizontal, but what word is left when you take the ending away. Next, never underestimate how many words a ten-year old knows, whether they are inappropriate or not.