EMSB’s Gail Bernstein recognized with Prime Minister’s Award For Teaching Excellence
Gail Bernstein, a teacher at L.I.N.K.S High School in Ahuntsic, is the only Quebecer to be recognized with the Prime Minister’s Awards for Teaching Excellence.
The Prime Minister's National Awards for Teaching Excellence have recognized exceptional elementary and secondary school teachers in all disciplines since 1994, with over 1,700 teachers honoured to date. Teaching Excellence Awards recipients are honoured for their remarkable achievements in education and for their commitment to preparing their students for a digital and innovation-based economy.
Ms. Bernstein was nominated by Principal Maria Caldarella for her work and success in integrating students with special needs in the learning process and the community.
Ms. Caldarella notes that when schools pivoted to virtual learning during COVID, Ms. Bernstein faced a new challenge. “With perseverance, they learned together how to use several online platforms,” she said. “She carried her philosophy and experience forward to every level and course she taught. Her priority was to delve into each student’s strengths, interests, talents and learning style through experiential learning and a cross curricular approach.”
Upon learning of the award, Ms. Bernstein said she felt honoured, grateful and full of many other emotions. “Throughout my career, I have always been given very positive feedback for my projects and ideas and thanked for my mentorship and dedication,” she said. “However, this award puts an official stamp of recognition of my career from the highest level.”
Ms. Bernstein’s entire teaching career of 35 plus years has been in the field of special education. She has taught in a variety of settings including The Douglas Psychiatric Hospital (children, adolescents and adults), Social Integration Services (SIS) at Marymount Adult Education Centre (now Wagar) and Galileo Adult Education Centre and presently at LINKS, a specialized high school. Earlier on in her career, she also co-directed an overnight summer camp for individuals living in group homes and hospital settings. “These experiences afforded me the opportunity to teach and learn from individuals with neurodiversity, of all ages and in all settings,” she explained.
“I have learned many valuable lessons over the years,” Ms. Bernstein continued. “Inspiring people to believe in our students, but most importantly inspiring students to believe in themselves. By trusting my instincts, I always have faith that my students will rise to the occasion and will go along for the ride if they see my complete investment in their journey.”
Ms. Bernstein says that among her guiding principles are to show students that she is not only a teacher, but also a learner, a mom, a daughter, a sister and the most fun, a grandmother.” Above all,” she says, “I have feelings, emotions, likes, dislikes, a sense of humour and I make mistakes just like everyone. I commiserate, I share relatable personal stories. I create a family like atmosphere and connect authentically with my students individually and as a group. I prove to them that I am genuinely interested in their stories and that they are truly inspirational.
Ms. Bernstein says that she tries to place her students in as many settings and experiences as possible to discover where, how, why and when they function best.” I pinpoint those optimum learning opportunities and start there, building as I go,” she says. “I find opportunities for them to participate with other high school students in competitions, events and inter school partnerships. We spend so much time teaching our students with neurodiversity how to interact with others and how to fit in. I believe we must spend as much time or more educating and sensitizing those who are neurotypical on how to interact with them. I also maintain ongoing communication with all the partners in the student’s life – family, guardians, social services and with any outside organizations/activities that the student is involved in. I pass on positive news and successes as often as possible.”
Ms. Bernstein said she was thrilled to share this exciting news with her parents, now aged 93 and 96. “My parents have been invested in my career, from the time I left home to go to the University in Ottawa and returned every summer to teach children with autism at the Douglas Psychiatric Hospital,” she said. “To this day when we meet one of their friends, I am introduced as their daughter who teaches in special education. Forty plus years later, my very active parents are still following my journey. What a blessing it was for me to be able to share the news with them. They were overwhelmed with pride and emotion and began reminiscing about my long career. My parents are anxiously waiting for the go ahead to spread the exciting news. What a full circle moment for them.”
Ms. Bernstein will be in Ottawa October 3 to 6 for a special program for all recipients of the Prime Minister’s Awards For Teaching Excellence. This will include a reception with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Ms. Caldarella and Guidance Counsellor Shannen Ciricillo will also be in the nation’s capital for the awards dinner.
See these videos of Ms. Bernstein and some of her students: https://vimeo.com/755128587
About the English Montreal School Board
With a youth and adult sector population of more than 35,000 students, the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) is the largest English public school board in Quebec. Established on July 1, 1998, when the province created new boards along linguistic lines, the EMSB network consists of 77 schools and centres. For more details, visit the EMSB website at www.emsb.qc.ca.