English teacher inspired Marian’s Kathleen Mesterharm to choose her career

Kathleen Mesterharm has never wanted to be anything but a teacher.
 
“I remember sitting in Mr. (Mike) Raftery’s classroom and thinking I wanted to be him. I wanted to teach English,” she recalled. “That was my path. I wanted to teach English, I wanted to study English and everything that I learned in my undergraduate classes and my master’s classes were really about how I was going to become a better teacher.”
 
  Kathleen
  Mesterharm

 
Mesterharm isn’t using Raftery’s classroom. She’s teaching just down the hall from where she sat in his AP Literature and Composition class as a 16-year-old at Marian Catholic High School. Today she is the English Department chair and it is she who is teaching that senior-level Advanced Placement Literature and Composition class at Marian.
 
Mesterharm is one of 32 high school teachers who are finalists for the 2019 Golden Apple Award given for excellence in teaching. The winner will be announced in spring. More than 500 teachers from across the state were nominated for the honor. 
 
“I am over the moon, as they say,” Mesterharm said of her selection. “Every day is a challenge and a joy and this has been an incredible journey to be recognized in that way and certainly humbling. My colleagues push me to be better.”
 
After graduating from Marian in 2001, she earned a bachelor’s degree in English from St. Xavier University in Chicago, and a master’s degree in English from DePaul University. Then she came back to Marian. She’s been on staff for 11 years.
 
Through poetry and prose, Mesterharm has her students assessing not just verse and rhyme but what life was like during the different periods, the beauty of the words and the stories they tell.
 
As department chair, she works to put a balance between the classics and more contemporary works by including modern day poems, nonfiction writing, essays and articles “so we bring a multitude of voices into our classrooms every day. We have an appreciation of the classics, that literary cannon, and also give students new and diverse voices.”
 
Mesterharm said she “never doubted” that she was in the right profession. She is one of four members of her immediate family to hold teaching certificates. Her mother, Mary Mesterharm, has been a math teacher at Marian for more than 15 years. Her sister, Eileen Mesterharm, teaches English as a Second Language courses at Daley College in Chicago, and her brother, Tom, is completing a doctorate degree in educational policy at Loyola University-Chicago.
 
“I grew up with an incredible respect for education – my own and as a profession,” she said.
 
“If a student came to me and said they are thinking about teaching, I would tell them that though it is a challenging profession, I can’t imagine doing anything else. It is incredibly rewarding on a daily basis. Every day for me is different, every student that I teach brings something else to my classroom, brings something else to a text that we’re reading or an assignment that I give. 
 
“So, I’m constantly pushed to be a better teacher and a more empathetic and perceptive person by my students. As much as I work to challenge them, they challenge me,” she said. 


 

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