Advertisement

Pay our teachers and get us back in school, young students tell Quebec premier

Eva Thomas-Paskal, 17, is in the final year of high school. She supports the province's teachers in their bid for better pay and working conditions.  (Submitted by Eva Thomas-Paskal - image credit)
Eva Thomas-Paskal, 17, is in the final year of high school. She supports the province's teachers in their bid for better pay and working conditions. (Submitted by Eva Thomas-Paskal - image credit)

François Legault, Brielle Ward wants to have a word with you.

After a few days being stuck at home due to an ongoing strike, the 10-year-old student in Gatineau, Que., was already fed up.

So, she sat down and wrote a letter to the premier.

"My name is Brielle Ward, I am in the fourth grade. I have glasses, brown hair and I am 10 years old. I am not happy right now because I can no longer learn," reads the letter, which was written in French and mailed to the premier's office last week.

"For me, a strike is a time where students and teachers are not being respected. The people in charge of our province don't pay teachers like they are supposed to."

After a few days at home due to the strike, Brielle Ward, 10, decided it was time to reach out to Quebec's premier.
After a few days at home due to the strike, Brielle Ward, 10, decided it was time to reach out to Quebec's premier.

After a few days at home due to the strike, Brielle Ward, 10, decided it was time to reach out to Quebec's premier. (Submitted by Deana Ward)

Brielle is among the 368,000 students in the French-language sector affected by the ongoing labour dispute between the Quebec government and the Fédération autonome de l'enseignment (FAE).

The FAE, which represents about 65,000 teachers, has been on an unlimited strike since Nov. 23.

Next week, another 100,000 teachers who are part of the common front will strike from Dec. 8 to 14, bringing the number of students out of school in Quebec to about 1.2 million, including students in the English sector.

Hundreds of thousands of other public sector workers, including health-care workers and school support staff will also walk out. More strike days could come if deals don't materialize.

"I get a bit nervous sometimes and sometimes I cry because it's just not really cool and I want it to change," Brielle said, when asked how she feels about schools being closed.

Brielled Ward, 10, mailed this letter to Premier François Legault's office.
Brielled Ward, 10, mailed this letter to Premier François Legault's office.

Brielled Ward, 10, mailed this letter to Premier François Legault's office. (Submitted by Deana Ward)

She also wants smaller classes so that students can get more attention from their teachers.

CBC News spoke to several young students about the teachers' strike.

Many of them are probably too young to fully understand what's happening with the labour negotiations, but that's not stopping them from having a clear position: They love their teachers, they want them to be paid and they don't blame them for going on strike.

They blame the Quebec government.

Legault has said the province is willing to offer a bigger salary increase to public sector workers in exchange for more flexibility on issues like scheduling. On Friday, Legault implored teachers to put an end to their pressure tactics, saying that children are being penalized because of them.

"We can't hurt our kids," he said. "They're the most precious thing we have."

Negotiations seem have to picked up since then, with both sides tabling offers.

'Teachers are extremely important to our lives'

Eva Thomas-Paskal was surprised when the premier said the teachers' strike is hurting children.

"It's so much harder for the teachers because they're the ones who aren't getting paid [during the strike]," said the 17-year-old who attends Sainte-Agathe Academy in the Laurentians.

"I feel like this is so much less of an inconvenience for the students as it is for the teachers."

She recently wrote a Q&A in her student paper, breaking down some of the key issues in this labour dispute.

As far as she's concerned, a big increase in pay doesn't just help teachers — it's good for students too.

"Teachers are extremely important to our lives," said the 17-year-old.

"Having a happy teacher, especially at a younger age, is going to help you so much emotionally because the teachers are the adults you see everyday. Having that — a happy teacher and a happy working environment — can completely change your life."

Alice Bernin, 8, attends school in Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood.
Alice Bernin, 8, attends school in Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood.

Alice Bernin, 8, attends school in Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

'At first, I didn't mind, but now I'm bored'

According to her mom, eight-year-old Alice Bernin isn't too flustered by the teachers' strike for now.

But she has a five-year-old brother with special needs and with both of them home,a lot of her parents' focus is naturally on her brother, meaning she isn't getting the attention she would normally get.

"At first, I didn't mind, but now I'm bored," said Alice, who lives in Montreal.

When asked what she misses the most about school, she said "reading and teachers," adding that she is particularly fond of Nadia, her homeroom teacher.

"I love that she listens to us," the eight-year-old said.

Isabel Ittybatta, 11, left, and her twin sister Sarah, live in Montreal and are trying to adjust to life without school.
Isabel Ittybatta, 11, left, and her twin sister Sarah, live in Montreal and are trying to adjust to life without school.

Isabel Ittybatta, 11, left, and her twin sister Sarah, live in Montreal and are trying to adjust to life without school. (Submitted by Bobby Ittybatta)

Sarah and Isabel Ittybatta, 11-year-old twin sisters who also live in Montreal, are are also adjusting to life without school.

"I fractured my toe so I'm just spending most of my days inside, it's kind of boring," said Sarah.

"I mostly miss playing with my friends, playing Balle au mur (wallball)," said Isabel, who does admit she's enjoying being able to sleep in.

When the strike ends is anybody's guess.

Brielle, the 10-year-old from Gatineau, was asked about the possibility of schools being closed until January.

"Well, that wouldn't feel good that's for sure," Brielle said. "I would write another letter to Mr. Legault."