For over half a century, Barbara Miller has been doing just that with the students she's encountered -- first as a teacher then as a guidance counselor -- in the Charleston R-1 School District.
Today Miller began her 52nd and likely her final year working in education as classes resumed for the Mississippi County school. Miller's first-day-of-school duties usually consist of directing students to class and comforting those who are weepy or scared, she said.
"I'm just there to help ... because counseling is a helping profession," the 71-year-old said.
As a part-time guidance counselor, Miller works about 15-1/2 hours a week at the school.
Miller spent the first half of her career teaching elementary grades and the latter part working as a guidance counselor. She retired in 1996 but has worked part-time for the school district ever since.
"In 1954, there weren't many other avenues open for women (career-wise)," Miller said about her decision to become a teacher.
Miller received a scholarship and had a little bit of money so she was able to attend college, she said. She began working in the Charleston R-1 School District in 1954 when it included several smaller, segregated school districts like Wyatt, Bertrand and Mark Twain.
"All of Charleston schools were consolidated (and integrated) into one district in 1969, and I came here," said Miller, referring to Hearnes Elementary which was also built in 1969. "The main reason I came was it was a time of change. Team teaching was being tried, and I was anxious to learn more about it."
Team teaching is when two teachers are assigned a large group of children to teach, and teachers work together to try to meet the children's needs, Miller explained.
Meanwhile, Miller went back to school to finish her master's degree in counseling and continued to teach in the classroom.
"When the current counselor retired, I applied for and was given the position of elementary classroom counselor in 1988," Miller said.
Miller remained at that position until her retirement. She also acquired her psychological examiner's certificate to help with testing students in the district.
"I've always loved working with children," Miller said. "In the classroom, the children in my room belonged to me, but when I became a counselor, I was responsible for all the children in the school. I enjoyed very much going into the classrooms and working in groups, which kept me in touch with the children and the parents."
Counselors work with the rest of the staff and administration to ensure the services are provided to the children, Miller said of her duties.
"It's difficult sometimes managing all the hats because a counselor wears many hats. It's almost like being a parent except sometimes you're dealing with adults," Miller said.
Miller recalled a moment from her career when a fifth grader came to visit her.
"She said, 'Mrs. Miller, I can't do anything. I don't even like myself,'" Miller said.
Miller and the student counseled and talked.
"The first thing I asked her to do was write up a list of all the things she could do, and then I asked her to write a list of things she might like about herself," Miller said. "We continued on with that, and she's now a teacher and has excelled all the way through school."
The girl didn't have a sense of self worth, Miller noted. Many children don't know the power they have within each other, she said.
"The technological explosion has changed our children, and we have to continue to look for better ways to impart knowledge to them in order for them to compete in the future. We need to make them lifelong learners -- teach them a sense of self and how to learn. Those two things will get them through life no matter what they encounter," Miller said.
Miller said parent involvement is also important.
Besides working in the school system, the award-winning educator supervised student teachers for Southeast Missouri State University and Central Methodist University for 10 years and worked with Parents as Teachers.
Over the years, Miller has taught every K-8 grade except fifth. She's never missed a year of working in the district except for an illness in 2005.
Hearnes Elementary Principal Becky Stewart said in a back-to-school workshop conducted earlier this week, faculty and staff were asked to post their heroes somewhere in their classrooms or on office doors.
"You're supposed to put up pictures of your heroes so the children ask about these pictures. I said Barbara is one of my heroes. She's one of the people I want to promote. She's been in education for 52 years because she wants to be."
Everyone in Charleston knows Miller since she has taught and counseled generations of families. She even works with former students.
"I appreciate the fact the community has trusted me with their children, and I've enjoyed every minute of watching them succeed," Miller said.
Stewart said it's very unique for someone to be working in education for so long, especially after they've already retired.
"Barbara is one of these people who always puts others first, and she never forgets to do something special for people. She always thinks of other people," Stewart said.
Meanwhile, Miller said it's the children she will miss most next year when she retires -- a concept that's difficult for her to grasp.
So, for now, Miller said she's learning to live in the moment.
"I'm just excited to be back for one more year," Miller said. "It's been home to me, and I'm comfortable here."