Skip to content

A Problem The Teacher Couldn’t Solve

Wed, 20 Sep 2023, 11:05 AM (-06:00) Creative Commons License

1. Meet the Teacher Night

Parents started coming into the classroom at 5:30. I showed them around the room, although there’s not much to see. We talked about the curriculum, although the notes are underwhelming. They signed in. Most hung around for five or ten minutes and then went to the next teacher.

One family came in with siblings. The mother wagged a finger at a younger one as he grabbed a marker and feigned writing on the whiteboard. I smiled at him.

“That’s ok,” I said. “Go ahead.”

I figured he’d draw pictures. Instead, he turned to me and said that he could give me a math problem I couldn’t solve. 

“Ok,” I said.

Math has never been a competition for me. I’ve always been most interested in organizing the work and been slow at the actual numbers. Indeed a first grade report card that I once saw safely archived in a folder my father kept in his file cabinet in the basement observed that “David is not good with his math facts.” But how can you deny a kid who’s excited about hard math problems?

“What’s the problem?” I asked him.

2. The Problem

The brother started writing numbers on the board — a multiplication problem. Then he turned and handed me the marker.

I rewrote his figures, lining up the places, drawing a straight black line underneath. I began multiplying and carrying digits. I intentionally did it quickly, speaking aloud to narrate what I was doing. As I went, I found myself writing carried digits on top of the carried digits from the last pass, but I kept on racing through until the problem was done.

“There,” I said, pointing to the number below the straight black line. I pushed the cap on the marker and set it down. “Let’s see if I got it right.”

The brother reached for his sister’s phone. I handed him a calculator which she helped him with. He punched in the numbers, and then he held up the result with a wide grin on his face.

The lights in the room flickered, and sparks fell from above. The ceiling began to race upwards and the walls press inwards, the room becoming a tiny square cylinder enclosing me. It was hot and smoke began streaming in through the door. The lights flashed again and then went out. The floor shook and a deep voice rumbled from the darkness overhead.

“Y o u    g o t    t h e    p r o b l e m    w r o n g . . .”

The brother jumped with glee. The parents said, “Ohh…”

3. The Morning After

The next morning some honors students came into my classroom. 

“Mr. Hasan,” they said. “Coach Henry says he solved a math problem that you couldn’t solve.”

The floor shook slightly. The booming voice echoed in my head.

“Y o u    g o t    t h e    p r o b l e m    w r o n g . . .”

“You know,” I said, “I think I know the problem he’s talking about.”

I walked to the board and wrote it out. 

“That’s the problem!” one of them said, evidently amazed that I was able to recall it exactly. (How could I not?) The booming voice echoed again.

“Y o u    g o t    t h e    p r o b l e m    w r o n g . . .”

“Yes,” I confessed. “I got it wrong.” It was pointless to explain that my carried digits got confused, so I just left it at that.

“Let me see if I can do it,” one of the students asked. She needed some help to remember such a rudimentary skill, but after a while she got it.

“Yep, that’s it,” I said. “That’s the problem I couldn’t solve last night.”

Coach Henry has good cause to gloat. But oh my gosh, what do those parents think!?

The floor shook one last time.

Dress Up

Sun, 17 Sep 2023, 10:12 AM (-06:00) Creative Commons License

There was a different theme every day before the Homecoming game. One day was Dress Like Your Bestie. The next was Dress Like Barbie. On Friday, students were asked to dress like teachers and teachers like students.

1. Midriff

The week before, after the announcements, I told 2nd period that I’d be wearing a midriff on Friday — against dress code, very much like a student. The students laughed. 

“Just kidding,” I quickly followed-up. “The last thing any of you want to see is my midsection.”

Friday came. I hadn’t dressed up all week. I have no clothes to dress like my fair and industrious bestie. And there’s no pink in my closet (or hers, as far as I know). When Friday came, I just had on another plaid collared shirt and some khakis. 

We were discussing horizontal compressions. As I was cautioning them about the reciprocal of B, one of the girls raised her hand meekly. I made my way to her as I was talking and then asked, “What’s up?” 

“It’s your…,” she whispered politely. “Um… your shirt button…”

I reached down to find a button unbuttoned and my belly exposed. She might have been whispering, but everyone heard. They watched to see my reaction. I just buttoned it shut and continued warning them about B.

Then I said, “Looks like I wore a midriff, anyway. I told you you didn’t want to see it!”

2. Bowtie

After eighth period at the end of the day, two familiar faces from last year appeared the doorway.

“Mr. Hasan!” Brandon said. 

He was wearing a plaid shirt and khaki pants. Although he didn’t wear glasses last year, now he had wire-rimmed glasses on. His hair was parted differently — on the side. And the collar of his shirt was fastened with a bow tie. Eloy was standing next to him holding his phone.

“I’m dressed like Mr. Hasan, Mr. Hasan!” Brandon said. 

“Like me?” I objected. “But… but I don’t wear a bow tie.” 

“The yearbook wants to take a picture. Is that ok?”

Eloy was raising his phone.

“Ok,” I said. “Sure. Go ahead.”

I put my arm on Brandon’s shoulder and we stood there in our plaid shirts and khakis and wire-rimmed glasses and smiled for Eloy as he captured it for posterity.


Sun, 10 Sep 2023, 07:30 PM (-06:00) Creative Commons License


It was the first full week of school. The seating chart was finally stabilizing. I was slowly beginning to associate names with faces. The students were beginning to get used to my sound effects. After one of the morning classes, Elizabeth came up to me as the others were leaving the room.

“Mister,” she said. “Do you live alone?”

Um. Ok. 

“No,” I said. “I live with my wife and our little dog.”

“That’s good,” she said. “You’re too nice to live alone.”

Her friend behind her asked, “What kind of dog do you have?”


It was the end of the last period of the Friday of the fourth week of school. We were done with the lesson, and the bell was about to ring. I was salvaging some plastic bottles from the garbage can and putting them into my recycle box.

“Mister?” Ida said. She sits at the table closest to the garbage can, so it was easy to hear her over the late Friday hubbub.


“Do you color your hair?”

I laughed. 

“Well what do you think?” I asked, running my fingers through my bangs. She didn’t answer.

“I don’t color my hair,” I said. 

There was murmuring in the classroom.

Lizard, Fingers, Sticks and Stones

Sun, 10 Sep 2023, 10:50 AM (-06:00) Creative Commons License

The morning sun rose gradually and the shadows crept along the ground as morning gave way to another hot summer day. Shadows of low hanging Fall Asters danced on the rocks. Dappled circles of sunshine fell on the ground. Lesser Goldfinches sang in the canopy of the Lacy Oak.

I watched a Spiny Lizard walk across the mulch, dashing a few inches and then stopping, doing a few pushups and then turning its head to inspect me sitting in the shade in a chair. It was no larger than a child’s little finger, no larger than the sticks of mulch over which it dashed. It would stare at me for long moments and then proceed further only to stop again to look back.

It came, after a while, to a blue-gray granite rock we collected in Michigan a few years ago and then to white-yellow limestone nearby. It hopped on top and looked back, sitting on the rocks in the sun for a long time, eventually turning away and moving into shade. I only moved to sip my now-cold coffee. This evidently was not alarming to the lizard who proceeded on whatever mission it was on before I had arrived.

No larger than a child’s little finger. No larger that the sticks on the ground. The lizard then disappeared into the undergrowth.

The Frog in Back

Sat, 19 Aug 2023, 10:19 PM (-06:00) Creative Commons License

From the margins of the pond in back, there comes this.

It Wasn’t Always This Way

Sat, 19 Aug 2023, 09:37 AM (-06:00) Creative Commons License

It wasn’t always this way in Austin.

Thirty-five years ago, if you planted a big tomato in a sunny spot, the bounty was great — many plump red tomatoes to slice and more to give away. But today, they don’t ripen before scorching summer sets in. And it’s not clear whether cherry tomatoes justify the effort and the water. 

Thursday, the high temperature was 109. The thermostat in my car read 111 as I pulled out of the parking lot at school. Our drought tolerant yard is super crispy. The Oaks and Elms and Persimmons and even the Possumhaws are sad. 

The trees need water. 

Like the Chickadees puffing themselves in our one-a-week watering. Like the Titmouse in the branches of the Lacy Oak celebrating the sprinkler. Like the Hummingbird flitting in the Flame Acanthus as the water droplets fall. Like the Anole Lizard climbing out of the leaf litter under the Agarita to enjoy the shower before we turn it off. Like the Spiny Lizard drinking from the puddles on the rocks. Like the Dwarf Salamanders that slither between the sticks at the foot of the Coral Honeysuckle whenever there’s any moisture. Like the American (?) Toad in the front who basks in the ground-level bird bath in the morning. Like the Leopard (?) Frog in the back whom we’ve never seen but can hear in the evening as it sings from margins of our tiny pond. Like all nature’s things, the trees need water.

So water your trees, even if only once in a while. Otherwise, the Chihuahuan Desert awaits.

An Interplanetary Fact

Tue, 8 Aug 2023, 12:13 PM (-06:00) Creative Commons License

Ingenuity, NASA’s helicopter on Mars is flying again after a recent emergency landing.

In late July during flight #53, the LAND_NOW program in Ingenuity’s avionics directed the vehicle to land due to navigation discrepancies. It immediately landed. The latest news is that the helicopter seems to be ok with normal missions coming soon. (Ok, “more rigorous” missions.)

Trudy and I can bear witness to the utility of such software based on our recent travels.

As I wrote previously, on a fine Sunday morning in June as we were pulling our teardrop northward, our Volvo displayed a Pull over now diagnostic on the dashboard due to tire pressure discrepancies. We immediately pulled over. As a result, we and the car were ok with a several hour delay the only major consequence. (Ok, that and a new set of tires.)

It’s officially an interplanetary fact: Good software is good software.

A Change of Plans

Tue, 1 Aug 2023, 07:45 PM (-06:00) Creative Commons License

Here is a snippet from the fifth day of my drive from Michigan to Austin.

Made ya look! There was no fifth day of travel.

I had a reservation at Martin Creek Lake State Park in northeast Texas and planned to drive home from there on day five. But as I crossed from Arkansas into Texas, I made two observations.

  1. I would arrive at  the park at 4pm and would be exhausted as usual but have four more hours before I could contemplate sleep.
  2. The temperature that night was going to be hot, and I was not looking forward to sleeping in the it.

So I called the park to let them know I wasn’t coming, and I called Trudy to let her know I was coming home. As a result, the fourth day stretched to 13 hours, after which the drive from Michigan to Austin was done.


Aux Arc Park in the Morning

Mon, 31 Jul 2023, 06:25 AM (-06:00) Creative Commons License

Here is a snippet from the fourth day of my drive from Michigan to Austin.

You get a good view of sunrise from campsite #2 at Aux Arc Park. The summer sun comes up from behind the hills on the far side of the river, its peach/pink glow reflected on the still Arkansas River.

the sun rising across the river with the side of the teardrop trailer in the foreground

After a quick breakfast and the usual closing up of the trailer, as the sun climbed into the summer sky, I was ready for an on-time 8:00am departure.

Sending these pictures to the fair and industrious Trudy was a bit … unfair. You see, there I was advertising a rosy sunrise beside calm waters while she was up before the Austin dawn taking Izzy for a walk in the dark before the scorching heat of day. 

But Trudy couldn’t hear the horn and clang and rumble of the Union Pacific freight trains on the tracks that run along River Street. Nor could she hear the whir of turbo machinery coming from the nearby Army Corps of Engineers powerhouse. Nor do the pictures show the all-night klieg lights at the Butterball plant on the other side of the river. 

Still, we agreed we’ll go to Aux Arc Park together some time.

What Google Said

Sun, 30 Jul 2023, 10:32 AM (-06:00) Creative Commons License

Here is a snippet from the third day of my drive from Michigan to Austin. 

Much of Wednesday morning was spent driving thru the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri. I was focused on taking scenic backroads, and today I got it.

US-160 from Poplar Bluff to Alton starts out innocently enough: a generously well paved two-lane road running west, connecting two scenic routes with an east-west path running thru the national forest. 

Even though the atlas (yes, an old-school paper atlas) doesn’t explicitly mark it as scenic, I figured its route thru the national forest would be a joy. In the beginning, US-160 was a generously wide and nicely paved two-lane road. But with Poplar Bluff receding into the distance, as the road became narrow and the trees leaned over to blot out the sky, the road became a punctuated sequence of sharp turns left and then right that were posted at 35, 40 and 45mph. “You would have been carsick,” I later reported to Trudy. 

Still, in spite of the lack of a scenic designation, in my opinion that stretch of US-160 qualifies. Perhaps it is because the forest is so close at hand. Perhaps it is the trailers and homesteads along the road. Or perhaps it is the individual trees — tall Oaks with glossy, dark green leaves that throw down generous shade.

Slow down. Turn left. Slow down. Turn right. So it went all the way to Alton, which I reached at 11:21, signaling Trudy upon my arrival. An hour later after crossing into Arkansas, I pulled off the road into the Salem City Park for lunch. There was shade. There were picnic tables. At the bottom of a hill there was a lake. And there were clean restrooms.

a picnic table with lunch in Salem with the lake in the background

“Yay!” Trudy celebrated when I told her I was stopping and then added, “Google says four hours to go.”

But here’s the thing of it. Google doesn’t understand this kind of trip. Google assumes you want to go fast. Or Google assumes you want the shortest distance. I wanted neither and so didn’t consult the Google. So despite the algorithm’s estimate, I arrived six hours later at the Corps of Engineers Aux Arc Park on the shores of the Arkansas River near Ozark, Arkansas

campsite #2 in the shade along the river

where I backed the trailer into site #2 in the shade of a Sweetgum Tree.

© jumpingfish by David Hasan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License