Katherine K. Merseth, Harvard University

Professor Katherine K. Merseth has taught for over 40 years, both in K-12 and higher education. She currently teaches at Harvard University and Harvard College. Watch her Kauffman Sketchbook video here. The following text is adapted from a PowerPoint presentation used in one of her undergraduate classes at Harvard College. 

Katherine Merseth in the classroom

Why I Teach:

• I teach because when I teach I learn…and I LOVE to LEARN.
• I teach because I am constantly challenged and I am never bored.
• I teach because no two classes, no two years, no two students are exactly the same. It changes constantly. Context (and culture) matter.
• Teaching is never the same because as David Cohen has said, “Teaching is a human endeavor.”
• I teach because I love my subject matter and love the puzzle of communicating that passion to my students.

What I Need to Teach Well:

• Content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge & pedagogical content knowledge
• Psychological knowledge of child and adult development
• The ability (and courage) to step outside of myself to take risks—and to reflect
• Fortitude—both emotional and physical
• Support—both intrinsically and extrinsically
• Humility and empathy

 Why YOU Should Teach:

• You will learn more about yourself in a shorter period of time than ever before.
• You will experience unbelievable emotional highs and lows—exhilaration when a struggling student ‘gets it’ and despair when students fail through no fault of their own.
• Teaching is a great preparation for life.
• You will learn what it means to be responsible for and a leader of human beings.
• The only way schools in this country will ever meet the needs of all students is to have capable, thoughtful, and committed teachers who care deeply about students.

6 Responses to “Katherine K. Merseth, Harvard University”

  1. Mohsin 24. Feb, 2013 at 8:09 am #


    Thank you for the encouraging words for new and ‘experienced’ teachers alike. On the other side of the world, Pakistan, I cannot help but say that these feelings and words are indeed universal.

    Only true teachers can help shape a better world.

  2. Winston 25. Feb, 2013 at 11:03 pm #

    Hi there, I really enjoyed this post. However, I was just wondering if you could elaborate on what you mean when you say “Teaching is a great preparation for life.” Thanks.

  3. Meg Sommerfeld 28. Feb, 2013 at 11:32 pm #

    As a former student of Professor Merseth’s, I can attest to the fact that she is an amazing teacher. It was clear then, as I am sure it is now, that she loves what she does. There were always dynamic and interesting discussions in the classroom, and engaging assignments outside of class. She is thoughtful and caring, someone who always managed to find time to answer a question or talk about an issue simply because it was interesting. She definitely possesses all the characteristics described under “What I Need to Teach Well!” I would probably add a 7th to the list, which is a good sense of humor and a joy for learning! Many of the best teachers that I have had made us laugh and have fun while we were learning, so it never felt like a slog or “work” but just a natural part of expanding our brains through interesting experiences. They encouraged you to think about things in a new way, which made that “a-ha” light bulb go off. Having a passion for learning and showing that learning can be fun creates a more joyful atmosphere for everyone, teacher and students included.

    • Kay Merseth 03. Mar, 2013 at 11:08 pm #

      Thanks for your inquiry I meant that teaching prepares you for all sorts of professional life roles, should you decide to pursue something besides teaching. It teaches you patience, it teaches you to think about someone else, it requires you to be well organized and prepared. It demands truthfulness and integrity. It teaches you to beware of time.

      ALL of those skills I posit will prepare you well for life.

      Thanks Meg for your very kind words

  4. Tony Leavitt 22. May, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    The joy of gaining new knowledge about oneself and the world. It’s all about a passion for people. Thank you for sharing. Look forward to meeting with you.

  5. Eugene 17. Jul, 2013 at 9:52 am #

    You will experience unbelievable emotional highs and lows—exhilaration when a struggling student ‘gets it’ and despair when students fail through no fault of their own.

    As a teacher myself, I experienced this tons of times. It is what make teaching such an endearing job. ;)

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