The Sun is an Enemy: Teaching in the Southwest

This is not a story of what happened exactly, but it is a story of what exactly it felt like. Also, nobody actually died, but we were certainly close.

We fought the sun, my students and I.

It was Summer, and the air was on fire, and the roads melted, and I saw a cactus sweating, and the sun was an enemy, and life was pain. My classroom was on the second floor of a building without air conditioner, and I’m certain the people below us were having a bonfire and toaster oven party. Squiggly invisible heat lines gyrated up from the floor. The roof was aflame because that’s what happens to roofs here during the Summer. Between the roof and the floor were 16 students and 2 teachers, and our combined sweat could drown us before class is out.

Exactly what it feels like to be surrounded by sweating teens

The sun was high on the day of the great flight of students. None could have predicted the heat wave that would pass over us. The weather forecasters, whose job is to predict what the weather would be if the weather were different, could not have foreseen the heat. The ancient leathery people sitting on the dust-blasted porches of houses with glass bottles in the walls could not feel the Summer in their bad knees and hips. I think my cat knew, but she didn’t tell anyone.

Any excuse to work my adorable kitty cat into a post.

There’s something uniquely awful about teaching in a hot room. The students couldn’t focus. I had trouble getting up from my desk. Every time I asked them to get up to do something, they groaned, and I couldn’t blame them because if a sweaty teacher an told me to do anything, I’d definitely do worse than groan. A bit of my sweat dripped on one of the papers I was grading, so I dipped my pen in my tea and let a drop of it fall exactly where the sweat had because a drop of tea is a lot less disgusting than a drop of sweat. I kept a towel near my desk in case I needed to smother a fire.

The situation was dire. Students with glasses couldn’t see through the fog of their lenses, and they couldn’t take them off because any light that touched them would be magnified and start a fire within seconds.

The time was 10:30, and we could take no more. The power had been out for an hour, but the light from the burning desks was enough to get by. We knew we would have to leave when the fan handed in its letter of resignation. One by one, my students stood up, poured their molten belongings into their water bottles, and trudged to the door like the orc legions of Mordor. With my scorched disciples behind me, I made my way to the promised land: the library.

Sweet safety

None of us knew how safe we had been in the classroom, but we knew the moment we stepped outside. The roof of fire and the molten windows had been our friends. I lost a third of my class to a solar flare that tore through the street. The greater Southwest area regularly hosts visiting superheated plasma arcs from the sun–it’s just part of living here.

The other students scattered. I shouted for them to come to me, but the heat had fused their earbuds to their ears–which wouldn’t have happened if they’d just taken them out when I asked, but you can’t win every battle.

A student went for a bike–he was so optimistic, so young. He mounted it, and the seat fused with him. He tried to pedal, but the tires were stuck to the ground. In his effort to escape the heat, he had become a permanently stationary modern centaur–half boy, half bicycle.

49th in education spending and 50th in lawn maintenance

I saw a pack of students cutting through the lawn, but they didn’t see the sun about to peak out from behind a cloud of smoke–likely from a forest fire. Once the heinous light of day spread itself across those green pastures, there was only fire.


The rest of my charges made it to the doors of the library. We charged through together and crashed into the lobby, a smoking heap, cursing the sun and the state we lived in. A librarian stepped out from behind the counter with a squirt gun and doused us. She said this was the fourth group to do this today. 

6 Replies to “The Sun is an Enemy: Teaching in the Southwest”

      1. Even better is when Phoenix is advertised as the capital city! Don’t they know that the Mojave desert is a lake of lava, and Phoenix is the volcano where it spews from? Sorry, I know I just repeated what you said, but I have similar memories of living in Arizona now that I live in Nevada, its twin, basically.


        A former AZ and current NV resident.


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