A Montreal teacher was recognized in Ottawa last week for her work in empowering students with special needs. 

Gail Bernstein was the only Quebecer to win the Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence for 2022. 

Bernstein is a pillar at L.I.N.K.S. High School in Ahuntsic, which serves kids with special needs. To her students, she's known simply as Ms. Gail.

The long-time teacher is also on a first-name basis with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Gail Bernstein

She recently returned from a trip to Ottawa, where she was the one receiving top marks.

"I knew she was going to win, she's really the perfect example of someone who should win this award," said Ann Brace, a fellow teacher.

The federal government hands out awards to teachers across the country who dedicate their lives to empowering students.

"I was reflecting over all these years and it just renewed my energy. It was really, truly a gift," Bernstein said.

To her students, she is the gift.

"Ms. Gail is an awesome and cool teacher," said Breanna, one of her students.

"I was so proud of her meeting the prime minister," said Alfonso, another student.

She's spent more than 40 years on the job, preparing teenagers and young adults for the workforce.

"She taught us how to work as a team and communicate and just plan everything," said student Savannah.

Maria Caldarella, the school's principal, said what you can't teach Bernstein's passion for the job.

"She's always been creative, innovative in her practices and her approach and trying to have them belong in a setting, but it's gone above that, it's now in a community," she said.

"She's done a lot of good for them."

Some of Bernstein's students are already working, but the teacher said it's not only up to them to learn.

"We work so hard on getting them to fit into the community, and teaching them how to relate to everybody. We have to spend way more time getting the public to relate to them. how to relate to them, how to understand them," she said.

It's that sense of understanding and embracing differences that the beloved teacher hopes everyone takes away from her class.

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