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The Year of Gumby

May 13, 2021 by Jill Allen Maisch (Maryland, USA)

According to the Chinese calendar, 2020 was the Year of the Rat and 2021 is the Year of the Ox. For me and many others, this past year has felt like the Year of Gumby. Like the little green bendable character, we have all had to learn to be more flexible.

When we left our school building at the end of the day on Friday, March 13, 2020, we were under the impression that we would be out for two weeks due to a new virus called COVID-19. We were directed not to post any lessons during that time. Honestly, it was a nice break. Sort of a spring break before our official spring break. Unfortunately, the rate of positive COVID-19 cases in our area began to climb rapidly, and we started to experience a number of COVID-related deaths.

Rather than return to the building after two weeks, we began virtual instruction. The learning curve for everyone was steep—new technology, new teaching methods, and a new schedule. I had to modify lessons and expectations. Being a science teacher, it was frustrating not to be able to do labs and other hands-on activities with my students. One day, while looking for my supply of markers, I came across the small Gumby toy I take on mission trips. He was exactly what I needed—a reminder to be flexible. I placed Gumby on a shelf in my at-home classroom for all to see. He became a visible prompt giving me permission to take a deep breath, shrug my shoulders and say, “Oh, well!” whenever Zoom crashed, my Internet connection went out, or when—all too often—the lesson I had worked on for hours bombed. I began to notice that my sense of humor and flexible attitude helped my students adopt the same positive mindset. After all, they were experiencing the same amount of school-related stress that l was, and they had just as much anxiety about the many unknowns related to the pandemic. I don’t know how many times I told my students, “It’s going to be OK. We can get through this together.” It was clear to me that my main teaching responsibility for the rest of the school year had nothing to do with the science curriculum. Instead, my main concern was helping my students stay healthy, persevere, and learn to be flexible . . . like Gumby.

On April 19, 2021, we began what’s known as hybrid learning. Lessons are still through Zoom, but a few students have elected to return to in-person learning. I can’t begin to describe how wonderful it is to be back in the classroom and to interact with students face-to-face. Along with the thrill of being back in the building, we continue to have issues with technology, and I’m still not allowed to have students do labs or hands-on activities. Also, students find it difficult to understand what I’m saying due to the way my mask muffles my words. Clearly, the need for flexibility continues. That’s OK. We got this. After all, it’s the Year of Gumby!


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