N.C. Council for the Social Studies Student Teacher of the Year Talia Laing ’20MAT Hopes to Facilitate Diplomatic Discussion and Create Opportunities in Her Classroom for Students To View Historical and Contemporary Issues from Other Perspectives
Talia Laing ’20MAT has been passionate about ancient Egypt and ancient Greece since she was in third grade. When it came time to explore colleges and careers, she wanted to satisfy her curiosity about history, choosing to study archaeology at Wheaton College in Illinois.
As an archaeology student, Laing had the opportunity to participate in overseas excavations, including an excavation to the Middle East, which magnified her love of history.
“I found myself pulled into the intimacy of the artifacts we uncovered, connecting to people and cultures of the past. As I touched pottery, clay idols and broken beads — primary sources in their own way — my understanding of how history is written deepened,” Laing said.
Through those experiences, she said the collaborative relationship between archaeologists and historians revealed how history is not a linear or universal story. Laing also learned to understand how primary sources are paired with context to create historical records.
Upon graduation, Laing took a position as a “fellow” in a New Jersey charter school. It was through that experience that her desire to teach was fostered. She also gained a valuable level of discipline and classroom management that she says works in certain classrooms.
“I eventually tempered this approach to be more compassionate and student-led in my later teaching experiences,” she said.
After that experience, Laing took a break from the classroom to become a mother of three. But she never lost her love and desire to teach, returning to the education field through NC State’s Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program in the middle grades social studies education track.
Laing said she chose NC State’s MAT program because it had a strong reputation with a rigor that matched and had a respect for nontraditional students. During her studies, she assisted in Willow Oak Montessori Charter’s Adolescent Program, where she also taught debate.
With a deep enthusiasm for logic and argumentation, Laing competed as a national collegiate debater while she was an undergraduate, using broad knowledge of current events and social science disciplines to build arguments. It’s an experience she hopes to bring into her classroom.
“Compelling arguments exist on multiple sides of every controversy. I hope to bring this learned humility to the classroom,” she said. “Competitive debate and the discipline of archaeology are so fun and fascinating. I am energized to train young people to learn history from these angles.”
Her desire to teach her students to learn history from many different perspectives was exhibited during her student teaching semester at Moncure School, where she was awarded the 2020-2021 North Carolina Council for the Social Studies Student Teacher of the Year.
“Keeping in mind the disorienting circumstances of the remote semester of fall 2020, I worked extremely hard to make the learning experience positive, meaningful and rich for the students in my classes. Receiving recognition for that effort is such a treat,” she said.
Having completed her degree in December 2020, Laing plans to teach middle school social studies this fall. She says she hopes to train critical thinking, facilitate diplomatic discussion and create opportunities for students to view historical and contemporary issues from other perspectives.
“NC State’s program focuses on the use of inquiry to drive learning, and I found this inquiry to be my ‘sweet spot’ during my student teaching. We pursued answers to big, important questions and prepared persuasive answers,” she said. “I am thrilled to pair the inquiry-centered pedagogy derived from NC State’s approach with Montessori’s collaborative and student-led methods in my own classroom.”