MusiCounts

Fast Forward

Carter Chiasson (Eskasoni, NS) reflects on how quickly things have changed, and what he and his community are doing to keep up.

Friends, is it me or has time been flying by so fast these past few months that it can feel daunting at times to try and match the productivity of what was an average day prior to COVID-19? And, strangely, for most of us life has never been so slow. Not to mention, the world around us is practically at a standstill. It’s an odd thought but it’s quite likely that there has never been a point in history where life has been as sedentary as it has been for most of us these past few months. So, why does time seem to be moving so fast? I’ve heard it referred to as the COVID Time Warp and, I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely in it. Here in Nova Scotia we’ve been living in a state of emergency for more than 7 weeks now; however, on an instinctual level it feels like a fraction of that time. And, when I think about life before COVID, those memories seem like an eternity ago. A strange feeling to say the least. Anyways, whatever it is about living in “the time of COVID” that has been skewing our perceptions of time and making life a bit trying, and, frankly, sometimes exhausting, it’s very real…… and at times a bit surreal.

Life has changed a lot in those 7 weeks. On Thursday March 12, my world was still normal…ish. The term coronavirus was definitely on my radar but it was honestly the last thing that I was concerned about. In hindsight, that might have been the single most naive thing that I’ve ever thought. Uggh. Anyways, I digress. March 12 was an abnormally busy day. I had just gotten back from an international trip, March break was only a few days away and I was scrambling to prep lessons for a substitute teacher because I was literally hours away from hopping on a plane to the Juno Awards in Saskatoon with my partner Nicole. Needless to say we didn’t get on that plane. Rather, within moments of being notified that the JUNOs were cancelled we found ourselves scrambling to shop for essentials while planning to spend the unforeseeable future in Nicole’s home town, the sleepy but beautiful Cheticamp, in northwestern Cape Breton.

Fast-forward.

So…here we are 7 weeks later, living and teaching in a climate, and in an environment that most of us never thought we would ever experience. At my school, Allison Bernard Memorial in Eskasoni, we are almost a month into an online learning campaign that has definitely had it’s hiccups but is now starting to find its groove. Over the last month our admin has worked tirelessly to identify which of our 264 students do not have access to the internet and/or don’t have a computer or device adequate for online learning. A lot of phone calls were made and a lot of messages sent. In response, more than 125 Google Chrome books were sterilized and lent out to students through a process of pre-scheduled touchless pickups. There’s even an initiative to bring free internet via the creation of wifi hotspots to the whole community so that no student is left without internet access during the pandemic. I can’t imagine the work that these things entail and they are only some of the numerous initiatives that are underway in the community to meet the needs of our students. Thank you to everyone who is working so hard behind the scenes at ABMHS!

Fast-forward.

As a teacher working from home has had its share of challenges, the biggest of which for me personally has been having to restructure my music classes to not include playing music due to the unavailability of instruments. Especially in my beginner guitar course, most of the students do not own their own instruments which makes it not possible to have virtual lessons or rehearsals. So, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, and exploring, ways of teaching music that are new to me recently, some of which have been successful and some not. However, as a teacher who thrives on working with students through interactive and hands-on learning, this has been a big change for me.

There have also been a slew of technical hurdles. Most notably, internet speeds here in rural Nova Scotia can be so slow that drop outs during online classes are common and transferring large files during the day is next to impossible. I’ll often set my content to upload overnight, alternating nights with Nicole (she also teaches school).

There have also been challenges on the administrative side of things for me. Notably, I’ve had to adopt Google Classroom as my teaching platform. I have always regularly used computers with my students but, as a music teacher I would rarely give or mark an assignment 100% electronically, let alone teach a whole course this way. To say the least, there’s been a lot to learn and I want to thank all of my colleagues who have helped shorten the curve for me. As well, I want to acknowledge how our weekly virtual staff meetings have been great not only for morale but for allowing us to help each other navigate the myriad of challenges and technical problems that we’re all experiencing as new online teachers.

Before I sign off here, I would also like to extend my sincerest condolences to everyone at CARAS and everyone involved with the 2020 Juno Awards whether they be an artist, a technician, an administrator and all fans of Canadian music across our country. What an incredibly unfortunate thing to have happen yet it was something that was absolutely necessary. It may take some time but I have zero doubt that our industry will bounce back stronger than ever when this is all over. I say this because if living in “the time of COVID” has reaffirmed anything for me it’s how intrinsic the arts are to the well being of society and humanity. Furthermore, I think it’s a certainty that history will record that the arts, especially music, played a fundamental role in helping the world get through and heal from the tragedies of these uncertain times. I can’t help it, I’m a bit of a dreamer, but wouldn’t it be beautiful if all the love we’re seeing for the arts right now led to a renaissance of arts education in Canada and around the world?

In closing I would like to thank MusiCounts for the opportunity to contribute to the Remote Music Education in Canada Blog Series and also to wish all my fellow music teachers, and all of your students, a safe and timely return back to school and back to making music. Nmu’ltes (until we meet again) everyone.

Carter Chiasson teaches music and technology at Allison Bernard Memorial High School in Eskasoni, NS. He is the 2020 MusiCounts Teacher of the Year.

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