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Celebrating the Teacher's Teacher

Teaching is very much a people-sensitive activity. It's one in which you need to read your audience, know who's in front of you, as well as impart knowledge and discipline. It's so interactive that you really can't study it at arm's length. Because what happened yesterday in the classroom depends and drives what happens today, you really need on-your-feet kinds of training. --Katherine K. Merseth, 2001 Recipient, Morningstar Award

Katherine K. Merseth, winner of the 2001 Morningstar Award for Excellence in Teaching, is the kind of mentor that even established teachers aspire to become. She is the sort of person who walks out of her classroom having generated more knowledge than she came in with, and leaving her students with more insight than they had ever expected. She is one of those teachers whose devotion to nurturing and challenging students has impressed the toughest classroom of all: HGSE future teachers.

Heather Harding, a former student of Merseth's explains that it is Kay's expectations of her students that really had an extra impact on her. "Kay Merseth really challenges your assumptions," says Harding. "I can recall taking [her course on school reform] and really learning how to defend my positions because Kay always had some question about why I was taking a certain position…she taught me that challenging students to face the values they hold closest to their heart is important in developing their potential as leaders."

Kay's combination of high expectations and supportive devotion to her students is felt around her classroom. Says HGSE student Alexandra Callen: "The care that Kay shows for her students while also holding them to the highest of standards is inspiring. As her student, I have benefited from this care (and those expectations)--her thoughtfulness about my personal life as well as her academic leadership has meant very much to me. As Kay's teaching fellow, I have appreciated the care and guidance she offers all students and have tried to emulate that devotion."

The Essentials of Excellent Teaching

This year, Merseth, who is a senior lecturer on education and the director of the Teacher Education Program, was honored with the Morningstar Award. While Merseth's professional experiences combine intimate knowledge of both teaching and academics, she is perhaps most celebrated for her foundation and reformation of HGSE's Teaching Education Program (T.E.P.).

Consistently ranked as one of the best teacher-training courses in the country, Merseth founded T.E.P. in 1983. T.E.P. is a year-long program during which students earn both their Ed.M., and Massachusetts state teacher certification. After 13 years away from the position of program director, Merseth is back this year, and already revamping the T.E.P.'s curriculum to equip teachers with the tools essential to the needs of urban education today. In addition to her master's and her doctorate from Harvard, Merseth holds a B.A. in mathematics from Cornell University and an M.A. in mathematics from Boston College.

Merseth clearly has a lot to say on the essentials of being a good teacher. Perhaps the most important lesson she has to impart is that the best teaching comes from the teacher who continuously seeks to learn from her students. As Merseth explains, "Teaching is near and dear to my heart…teaching at HGSE is the best job in the world because the school supports a genuine co-construction of knowledge in it its course. I always, always am learning when I am teaching."

The Morningstar Award

Funded by Faith Pierce Morningstar, Ed.D.'96, and her family, the Morningstar Award for Excellence in Teaching was established in 2000 to honor outstanding educators at HGSE. One award recipient per year is chosen by the School's academic area chairs and deans and honored with a stipend and campus-wide recognition.

In 2000, Terrence Tivnan, lecturer on education and co-director of the Writing and Research Center, was the first faculty member ever to be honored with the Morningstar Award. Tivnan teaches courses on research methods and data analysis in the Human Development and Psychology area. He received his M.A.T. in reading from HGSE in 1970 and was a first-grade teacher for several years before returning to graduate study, receiving his Ed.D. from HGSE in 1980. His work in educational psychology examines how new skills are acquired by elementary school children.


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