Feature Teacher: Talista Murrill
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Talista Murrill is a pre-kindergarten teacher at Durham Head Start in Durham, North Carolina, where she has worked for the past two years. Talista has worked in early childhood care and education for 16 years.
Tell us about yourself!
I am from Richlands, North Carolina—home of the great Falcons and Wildcats! Education has been important in my own journey: I graduated from Coastal Carolina Community College with an associate’s degree in early childhood, from University of Mount Olive with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood, and from UNC Chapel Hill with an MEd. Fingers crossed, I’ll earn a PhD in the near future. At the same time, working in the field has been important for my professional growth, and I have had the privilege of working in a variety of center-based settings in the Jacksonville, North Carolina, area. At the age of 18, I started working at Miss M's Tot University, which is the child care center I attended as a child and where my great grandmother and grandmother were amazing cooks and helpers. My great grandmother was a very important person in my life. As I continue to pursue advanced degrees, I am now at Durham Head Start and am looking forward to working in the public school system in the future.
What drew me to the field of education? To be honest, at the age of 18 I was focused on finding work that would help me pay bills. Teaching young children grew into a passion for me. Seeing this growth, one of my directors suggested that I get my credentials in early childhood education. I doubted my self-worth, but she and many others persisted and encouraged me to move forward. I am thankful for this support and encouragement. Because of them, I have taken on the role of recognizing and inspiring others. I have learned that life is an experience, that it’s important to focus on what’s possible and what’s most important in life, and that self-care is the best care.
What is something important a child has taught you?
I’ve learned that my actions are as important and even more imperative than my words.
What strategies would you recommend to build on children’s individual and family strengths, cultural backgrounds, and experiences and to show children and families that you value them?
While at Coastal Carolina Community College, my professors really helped us understand the standards of NAEYC in detail and why they were important for us and for our work. One standard will always travel with me: building relationships. With strong relationships in place, a teacher can do so much—everything from teaching children about the alphabet, the sounds in words, and how to read to inspiring children to never give up and to reach for their goals.
It is also key to pay attention to children’s particular strengths in the classroom. At a past child care center, my coteacher and I noticed a child with a strong knowledge of the alphabet. He started demonstrating phonological awareness (an understanding that words are made of sounds), an awareness of letter-sound relationships, and word recognition. To support his growth, we created a print-rich environment and provided him with books to read. The coteacher and I still have a relationship with him and his family.
I believe that, as a person and an educator, you have to build relationships from the foundation up. In addition, it’s imperative to take nothing for granted and acknowledge that rich learning can come from children of any background.
Describe some ways in which you communicate with families to build and maintain positive and reciprocal relationships.
I believe that being flexible with communication and taking time to understand their background helps build positive relationships with families. For example, we have many families that are truly busy with their family goals and responsibilities. Additionally, virtual learning and working from home are the “new normal” for many families. Therefore, sending text messages and tapping into social media (tailored and private to a program) instead of sending lots of emails or papers home may help some families as they juggle and navigate change.
What is your favorite children’s book and why?
Mother Goose’s This Little Piggy. My great grandmother, great grandfather, uncle, and grandma read this story to me and illustrated it with my toes. Every night I laughed with excitement. This book created such great childhood moments with them.
How do you take care of yourself?
It’s important to take care of yourself on the weekend and on weekdays with meditation, eating the ice cream you love, or watching a favorite movie. I also find it helpful to turn on the Do Not Disturb button on my phone or have a date night. I take care of myself through daily skincare routines, drinking water reguarly, and calling my grandma. I am learning to get up and do this routine consistently, even when I don’t feel motivated. These self-care strategies help me be the best teacher for children; they help me have a calm approach toward challenging behavior that a child may present or toward a child who simply wants to be with their loved ones from home.
A self-care strategy in the classroom is to recognize that some days, it’s best for the teacher to follow what the children want to learn. You may find fewer challenging behaviors and more laughter and fun.
What is your proudest accomplishment as an educator?
When an issue happens with a child, teacher, or family, I never give up. Consistency is the key. A recent example of this is when I moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, meeting new coworkers, families, and children at Durham Head Start. My first year, the coteacher and I consistently provided nurturing and an active classroom with music, movement, and laughter. Some days I felt like I had no clue what to do, but I did know for sure that I could provide the nurturing and laughter and could allow the children to be children and have fun.
What is a future professional goal that you have for yourself?
I would love to travel around the world and help English language learners and their families. I have noticed that some children may shy away from interacting with peers because their home language differs from the primary language used in school. Therefore, I have made it a priority to encourage children to have confidence in their language and affirm that their words are just as important as others’. One day I would like to become an owner of a school or child care facility to give this kind of encouragement to every child.
How does social and emotional development connect to what you do as a teacher or in your work with young children?
Wow! Social and emotional health and development means such a great deal to me. I believe children begin developing their social and emotional lives from birth. They have so much to offer, and they also need lots of support to thrive early on and to build a strong foundation for later in life. In the classroom, I strive to follow approaches that are responsive to each child—their individual strengths, interests, and contexts—so that they know that their voices matter. They have a desire to be heard. However, they may not be heard or their voices may not be respected because of their age or because of aspects of their identity. In the classroom, I have created a statement that really focuses on developing a love of self and not basing one’s self-worth on others’ words: “My feelings are not hurt because you said that. I love myself anyway.”
Photographs: courtesy of Talista Murrill.
Copyright © 2021 by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. See permissions and reprints online at NAEYC.org/resources/permissions.