Inside job

Phillip Kaiser

Photo by SAMI EDGE

Phillip Kaiser, U.S. Government teacher at McQueen High School knows what he’s talking about. As a former Capitol Hill employee, Kaiser has the first-hand experience to teach his students, Advanced Placement and otherwise, about the inner workings of the government. Kaiser is on a mission to influence his students to take an active role in the government—after they pass their A.P. tests.

How did you become a government teacher?

I studied international relations at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and then at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and I really liked government and politics. So then I worked for Harry Reid’s campaign when he first ran for Senate in 1986, and when he won and I finished my master’s degree in ’87, I went to work for him, and I worked for him for two years.

What did you do as a legislative assistant?

I was his legislative assistant for foreign relations and defense. When an issue came up as far as legislation, I tracked the legislation, and I provided input to the senator as to what the pros and cons were or what the benefit was to Nevada. So I worked for Senator Reid for two years as his legislative assistant, tracking bills that were related to foreign affairs and national defense, and I would come back to the state if there was a question related to defense or foreign affairs, and I would answer those questions and relate it back to what was going on in Washington, D.C.

Did you work in D.C.?

I worked in D.C. for two years. And then I left Senator Reid’s office, and I went to the Library of Congress where I worked for six years for the Congressional Research Service. I helped write congressional reports on foreign affairs, especially related to the Soviet Union and China and stuff like that. And then I worked for a contractor, Science Applications International, which was on contract with the government to write reports for the Army related to military and economic capabilities of Eastern European countries and the Soviet Union.

Which job was your favorite?

Well, it sort of depends, working on Capitol Hill is very exciting, but it’s very fast paced, and there’s a lot of pressure to keep up with stuff. Working at the Library of Congress was really very interesting, and I liked writing the reports and supporting Congress one step away from the requirements of politics. That was really nice, and it helped my ability to write reports, and edit reports and stuff like that. But when the government downsized in the Clinton administration, they didn’t have enough money for everybody, so I lost that job and went to work for this private company, but the pressure there was even greater. Even though the money was good, it wasn’t worth it to me. At that point, I had some young children at home, and I would leave for work before they were up, and I would get back home after they were already asleep, and so I only worked there for a couple of years, and then I came back to Nevada and became a teacher.

Do you like teaching?

I love teaching. In fact I love teaching more than I thought I would. I knew I loved the material, the subject matter, but I didn’t know how I would do with students. It has really turned out to be great. I love teaching.

What’s the biggest downside of teaching?

Well, one of the hardest things is unmotivated students. You know, people who just don’t care. Unfortunately, I teach seniors, and some of them don’t care, and they just quit, and some of them don’t graduate. I think, “Gosh, you’re so close, just try and stick it out, try and make it those last few months.” I think that’s the thing that hurts the most is when somebody gives up when they’re this close.