A high-school English teacher had to fill in for a math teacher on short notice. He was a little nervous, as he’d never taught anything other than English before. He decided to keep it simple.

“I don't know what your teacher had planned,” he told the class, “so we’re just going to review some basic multiplication.”

He went to the blackboard and wrote “5 x 2.” He turned to the students, and instantly a bunch of hands went up. He called on a girl in the front row, who confidently said, “10.”

“Good. Let’s try one that’s a little harder now,” said the teacher. And he wrote “3 x 4 x 5” on the board. Almost as many hands went up as before. This time he called on a boy in the back, who answered, “60.”

“Correct,” said the teacher, feeling like things were going pretty smoothly. “Now let’s see if you guys can get this one.” And he wrote “100 x .1” on the board. This time no hands went up.

“Anybody?” the teacher prompted.

Finally, one kid put her hand up in a tentative manner. The teacher called on her.

“Uh ... 1000?” she ventured.

The English teacher hesitated for a moment. Finally, he spoke.

“1000. Okay, that’s one answer ... anyone else?”

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Copyright © Jonathan Caws-Elwitt. This page revised February 13, 2009.