Barf and lamination: Milestones for this novice teacher keep piling up

The teaching milestones keep piling up.

A couple weeks ago a student threw up in my classroom.

I’ll spare you the details save to say it was clear the poor child had some apples during the day.

I sprang into action, which is to say I told him to go ahead to the nurse. He need not make an appointment.

The custodian came with his special kitty litter for humans to soak up the sick.

Only a few kids were nearby the incident and they handled it with surprising maturity given their reactions to the occasional bug in the classroom.

I felt like I should get a merit badge on my metaphorical Cub Teacher uniform.

One of my mentor teachers said she worked 12 years before a student threw up in her classroom.

Some of us just have the gift, I replied.

I also earned another badge last week: I laminated something.

When I was a boy, I thought lamination was magical.

My dad and I went to an afterschool activity at Woodlawn Elementary School, back when Woodlawn was an elementary school, and we made a game together.

The culmination of the event was having the game, which had lots of colorful dots on it, laminated.

Lamination felt like an official conference of importance.

You don’t laminate garbage. You laminate important things.

I so looked forward to laminating things that I bought my own laminator for my classroom.

It cost about $25 and came with the clear plastic folders used for the laminating.

But I was nearly three months into the school year, and I hadn’t laminated anything.

I began to think I’d wasted two and a half sawbucks on exuberance.

Perhaps lamination was not as important to schools as it was when I was a lad.

I come from the age of films — not just films, but film strips, which had the unique ability to make any topic boring.

They were education’s version of somebody’s family vacation slides.

Younger readers, if there is such a creature, should look up the “photographic slides” and “boring slides trope.”

Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga could team up to make a filmstrip and I bet I would fall asleep by the third frame.

Finally, the skies opened and the need for lamination arose.

The students lost my restroom pass.

I downloaded a design from the internet, printed it, and plugged in the laminator.

All I needed to do was put the pass in the clear plastic folder and run it through the heating iron.

The directions enticed me.

“Some smoke and burning odor are normal on the first few uses.”

Oh, man. I was drunk on heady excitement.

There was a problem. I couldn’t figure out how to open the plastic folder.

I tugged, twisted, and pulled at every corner.

I even got a pocket knife out to try to separate the sheets.

I briefly thought that maybe you needed two sheets for each lamination.

I called upon my mentor teacher in the room next door.

She came in and instantly separated the pieces of plastic.

I was trying to open it at the wrong end.

“I’ve laminated a thing or two in my day,” she said with the tone of someone who’d survived great copy paper shortages and supply chain interruptions on staples and paper clips.

I laminated my bathroom pass and a couple of signs, one reminding people school is spray fragrance-free and another with the rules of a new tardy policy.

I posted the signs on my door. I admired their shine. How official they looked.

I’m not a real teacher yet, but I’m getting closer.

Monday night will be the test. That’s when I attend my first parent-teacher conferences as a teacher.

I hope they go well, but I’m nervous — hopefully not so nervous as the poor lad who deposited his undigested apples on the floor.

But it’s all an important lesson: There are some problems you can’t laminate yourself out of.

Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.


  1. MARY JANE SPIES says:

    I love your thoughts. Once again your students are so lucky you have found them!


  2. Karen says:

    Perfect descriptions of those “special” teaching moments. You are on your way to writing an entertaining book of your teaching experiences one day!


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