Centreville It’s not easy being an elementary-school counselor — especially in an ever-changing world — but Centreville Elementary’s Lee Kaiser relishes every challenge.
Although students may be in a classroom physically, he said, “Behaviorally, they may be dealing with other things, so I have to get them back to a place where they’re ready to learn. For example, through the media, they’re exposed to a lot more at a younger age. The Internet poses potential dangers, such as cyberbullying, and TV can lead to a copycat mentality.”
Noting how much things have changed since he was a boy, Kaiser said, “Kids today have a lot of real-life concerns — anywhere from poverty to the inability to get involved in extracurricular activities to the negative influences of TV and magazines. When I grew up, that wasn’t the case.”
Nowadays, he said, children are grappling with problems ranging from eating disorders to self-esteem issues, poor study-habits and ADHD. “We’re also dealing with a very diverse community, socio-economically and socially, and that poses a big challenge,” said Kaiser. “And if the parents don’t speak English and I need to communicate with them about their child, that also poses an obstacle. We have dozens of languages in our school, but we don’t have a parent liaison for every one of them.”
Toughest, he said, is having enough time to meet the needs of all the students, their families and the staff. “I’m nonstop all day,” said Kaiser. So he was happy when Esther Kang joined him as a counselor at Centreville Elementary in 2011.
“I told her, ‘You’ll make a to-do list, and the only thing you’ll do is add to it,’” he said. “It’s good to work as a team; the job is too great for one person.”
He said what he and Kang do on a daily basis at Centreville “goes from social work to being a teacher, counselor, administrator, parent, coach and cheerleader. There’s no one in the school we don’t collaborate with; we connect with everybody.”
Still, said Kaiser, “I’ve always loved what I do and have never seen it as a job, but as an opportunity to positively interact with and influence young people, families and staff to create a positive school climate. That’s what motivates me; I have a passion to help others.”
What gives him the most satisfaction, he said, is the same as the famous, Jackie Robinson quote: “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, that is to have succeeded.”
Kaiser also enjoys being able to make his job what he wants. “That gives me the freedom and liberty to go outside the box and try new things and different ways of reaching kids,” he said. “And developing respectful relationships with parents, teachers and kids is so valuable. If I could give any advice, it’s that parent involvement in a child’s life is critical — and so is that connection between home and school.”
He also works to develop relationships between the school and various churches, businesses and organizations in the community. “It’s so important and it helps kids feel taken care of,” said Kaiser. “They need to know we’re all part of their support network.”
Praising all school counselors, he said he hopes people learn how significant and valuable they are, because schools weren’t always required to have them. Basically, said Kaiser, “There are so many kids with so many needs that I truly believe, if we didn’t have school counselors, there’d be way more problems in the schools.”