Story Unmasked: Elizabeth Monteith, Music Teacher at North Toronto C.I. (Toronto, Ontario)

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

Interviewed by Catherine Qi and Vivid Ma.

Ms. Adams said to me, "I'm going to be teaching a course that I haven’t taught in 12 years." She was given essentially 7 days to get all the information she needed to teach and to plan a course she hadn’t taught in 12 years.

Ms. Monteith on Zoom in her Music Council "Momteith" Hoodie.

How has teaching been and how is it like at NT right now?

Well, It’s hard work, and the fact that we can’t play in the building - I'm not doing band this quad, I'm doing music production so actually that's fine, but Mr. Varahidis is finding it really hard because he had Grade 11's and all they could do was percussion. He has his Grade 12’s coming into this quad and the only time anybody gets to play is at home. So they’re playing at home, and of course as you guys probably already know, the internet connection [creates] huge lags and you can't really perform with anybody successfully. There are lots and lots of really unpleasant things that music teachers... have had to try to work through.

Ms. Monteith & Mr. Varahidas's Music Council, from ntcimusiccouncil Instagram.

What has working through the pandemic been like, and what are some challenges you may face on a day to day basis (if any)?

I have one student right now... who needs to have shorter periods of time to work with me because when he comes into class- our classes in the morning go from 8:35AM to 12:30PM… he kind of zones right out because it's too much of me. Not that having me there is terrible for him, and he's not a discipline problem... it’s just that he goes into this zone-out land. I’m telling him “do this, do this, and do this” [that] he gets lost in his phone and... just stares off into space. And he comes to the online sessions in the afternoon, but he just doesn't get anything accomplished.

So there are some students not doing well. Whereas [for] some students, for my course especially with music production... they are able to have longer periods of time to work on projects. [It’s] not like they have to chunk their time into 'well I only have 45 mins to work on this', so that's working out really well for my course.

We only see students [in person once or twice a week]... and the other times they are [all] online. Courses such as math... need to have skills reinforced, [and]... to be able to get the content in for some classes is really, really hard... so its kind of overwhelming for some students.

Mr. Kinoshita (Ms. Monteith's husband), [is] teaching Grade 12 physics this quad. He said, "My students have had it, they can't learn anymore. They can't mentally get anything more into their heads."

And so the short amount of time and the pace at which the really technical and information-heavy courses are going, it's too much. It's actually too much for Mr. Kino [too] because he was saying, “[I’m] just marking all the time”.

How much more stressful has it been on the teachers?

The biggest problem at the very beginning was to figure out what parts you were going to drop, what parts you were really going to cover, and when it was all going to happen. Because the way the whole schedule worked is so different [than how] it normally is… there was just so much more prep that was involved. The scheduling [and] the planning for the teachers was not necessarily a good way to start a year that is the weirdest year ever.

Ms. Adams said to me, “I'm going to be teaching a course that I haven’t taught in 12 years.” She was given essentially 7 days to get all the information she needed to teach the course, and to plan [a] course...she hadn’t 12 years. She wasn’t the only one. About half the teachers at the school, and throughout the TDSB at the secondary level... ended up being pushed into that situation because there were students that were going into the virtual school, being dropped from classes, or [being moved] from one teacher’s class to [another].

Especially in the spring, there was a huge learning curve.

Did you get compensated for this?

The only people who were being compensated for all this stress were administrators... principles, vice principals, and that’s it. [The management staff as well] (supervisors and superintendents) get bonuses, but we don't.

How has adapting to the technology been for teachers?

Ms. Monteith and Ms. Dalamba dressed as Poison Ivy & Harley Quinn respectively.
With Ms. Dalamba from 2019's Halloween night (Band Retreat).

*laughs* Especially in the spring, there was a huge learning curve. It wasn’t so bad for Mr. Kinoshita and I. I do my tech stuff at school, and of course he’s Mr. Tech, but there were actually some things that I knew how to do and HE didn’t! We would send out info to all the staff [and say], “If you're having trouble, then do this, and this and this”... some until the very end are still doing everything by hand- pencil and paper.

Some teachers just didn't want to do that online video conferencing thing, but now they're forced to. And internet- [regarding] the Wi-Fi speed, some teachers said: “Well I'm not going to pay extra because I'm not getting anything from the board to pay me for upping the internet speed"… [or for teachers] who want to teach anything [from] their phone... upping the data.

[There are] lots of things [to which] teachers said, “No, I'm not going do that because that's not what I was hired to do."

Is there anyone to go to for advice if you have any concerns?

We have an Ontario Music Education association Facebook page, so people throw ideas on that, and there's a TDSB music teachers Facebook page, but it's weird… It's very stressful for some teachers, but I've been doing it for such a long period of time, that I figured alright, we're going to do body percussion, a little beatboxing, teach them [skills like] how to perform together, [have] a music production unit… It'll be more based on non-Bandy stuff in class. [I'm] trying not to focus on theory because we all know that theory is only so exciting to a point!

Ms. Monteith's Marching Band Club.

Was there a particularly memorable moment that’s happened so far?

I’d say the most satisfying part was the very first day cohort A came to school. The line up was enormous. They had to do a wellness check as they came into the school, and I thought that kids would be out in the lineup dreading the fact that school was starting at 8:45AM, but everybody was so happy to see everybody. Of course no hugs, [but] still, the one thing that is really fascinating is that... the majority of the students are really appreciating the fact that we can be at school and learn together.

One thing that's good and that's also kind of sad is that there’s no rowdiness. The Grade 9's are apparently still very quiet in class. They're not getting to know each other that well, so they don't chum around and tell jokes and laugh… They enjoy being in class and they’re reasonably happy, but they don't know each other well enough. Even the senior students are kind of quiet.

Ms. Monteith's Online Avatar.

There are times in the class where I just feel like, "Y'know, we have done too much thinking already, so let's just talk about something else!" [For] the Grade 9 kids, because they are distanced from each other, there hasn’t been any kind of in-person orientation ...some of [them] still haven't made friends.

Mr. Varahidis and I are going to do get to know you activities online so that they can feel the sense of togetherness because that's part of the fun you know, playing in a group…[and being part of one].

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