Cult of Pedagogy Search

Find Your Marigold: The One Essential Rule for New Teachers

Close

Can't find what you are looking for? Contact Us

 

Welcome to your first year of teaching. This year will test you more intensely than just about anything you’ve done up to now. It will deplete all your energy, bring you to tears, and make you question every talent or skill you thought you had. But all these tests, if you approach them the right way, will leave you better and stronger than you are today.

Advice is available everywhere you look, and some of it is very good. Still, with everything you have to do right now, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it all. And the fact is, a lot of those tips won’t work very well if you fail to follow this one essential rule:

Surround yourself with good people.

By finding the positive, supportive, energetic teachers in your school and sticking close to them, you can improve your job satisfaction more than with any other strategy. And your chances of excelling in this field will skyrocket. Just like a young seedling growing in a garden, thriving in your first year depends largely on who you plant yourself next to.

The Marigold Effect

Many experienced gardeners follow a concept called companion planting: placing certain vegetables and plants near each other to improve growth for one or both plants. For example, rose growers plant garlic near their roses because it repels bugs and prevents fungal diseases. Among companion plants, the marigold is one of the best: It protects a wide variety of plants from pests and harmful weeds. If you plant a marigold beside most any garden vegetable, that vegetable will grow big and strong and healthy, protected and encouraged by its marigold.

Marigolds exist in our schools as well – encouraging, supporting and nurturing growing teachers on their way to maturity. If you can find at least one marigold in your school and stay close to them, you will grow. Find more than one and you will positively thrive.

Few teachers will be lucky enough to be planted close to a marigold – being assigned to one as a mentor, co-teacher, or team leader will be rare. You will have to seek them out. You can identify them by the way they congratulate you on arrival, rather than asking why anyone would want this godforsaken job. Or by the way their offers to help sound sincere. Or just by how you feel when you’re with them: Are you calmer, more hopeful? Excited to get started on a teaching task? Comfortable asking questions, even the stupid ones? If you feel good around this person, chances are they have some marigold qualities.

 

Find Your Marigold

 

Once you’ve identified your marigolds, make an effort to spend time with them. Having a hard day? Go to your marigolds. Not understanding how to operate the grade reporting system? Go to your marigolds. Confused by something the principal said at the faculty meeting? Marigolds. They may be on the other side of the building, out of your grade or subject area, or otherwise less convenient to reach than others. If your school is especially toxic, you might have to find your marigolds in another school, or even online. Make the effort. It’s worth the trouble.

Beware the Walnut Trees

While seeking out your marigolds, you’ll need to take note of the walnut trees. Successful gardeners avoid planting vegetables anywhere near walnut trees, which give off a toxic substance that can inhibit growth, wilt, and ultimately kill nearby vegetable plants. And sadly, if your school is like most, walnut trees will be abundant. They may not seem dangerous at first. In fact, some may appear to be good teachers – happy, social, well-organized. But here are some signs that you should keep your distance: Their take on the kids is negative. Their take on the administration is negative. Being around them makes you feel insecure, discouraged, overwhelmed, or embarrassed.

WALNUT TREES ARE POISON. Avoid them whenever you can. If you don’t, they will start to infect you, and soon you’ll hate teaching as much as they do.

Doing this may be a challenge: Your supervisor might be a walnut tree. You may be co-teaching with one. You might work on a whole team of walnut trees, spending hours with them every week. Touching base with your marigolds will help flush out the toxins that build up from contact with the walnut trees. On top of that, simply identifying certain co-workers as walnut trees can help dilute their power over you. If I’d had a label I could mentally place on certain people in the schools where I worked, they would have had far less of an impact on me.

So in the spirit of identification, here are some common walnut tree varieties to look out for:

Kid-Hatin’ Kate, who will snort every time you share a positive anecdote about your students. Spend enough time with her and you’ll believe every single one of them is a lying, cheating little sneak and you’re a fool if you think otherwise.

Retirement Dan, who regularly reports on how many years he has left before he’s “outta here.” He then adds with a chuckle that you have about thirty, right? Dan will find your enthusiasm about school “cute,” but will then tell you to “just wait…it’ll wear off.”

Twenty-Page Tina, who sets impossibly high standards for her students and brags when kids fail. You had your kids write a five-page paper? Tina assigned twenty. Your mid-term had fifty questions? Tina’s had a hundred and fifty, and only a dozen kids passed it. The students say her exams are the only ones they ever have to study for. After talking to Tina, you’ll feel the urge to triple your kids’ workload and add at least ten trick questions to your assessments, just to get your average down.

Badass Bobby, who overhears you talking about your students acting up in class and says, “They would never try that crap in my room.” Whenever you leave a conversation with him, you go and scream at your kids.

Hattie-Who-Hates-the-Principal. Self-explanatory.

Lawsuit Steve, who sees you touch a student’s forearm and says you better watch out. He “had to give up hugs years ago” and is always reminding you to “be careful.”

My-Time Margaret, who counts the number of minutes she got for lunch, complains about serving one more day of car-rider duty than anyone else, and knows precisely what time she’s legally required to be in the building each day (not a minute earlier).

And Good-Old-Days Judy, who hates anything new and never fails to mention how much better things used to be.

Be especially vigilant during PDs, when you’ll find yourself in a veritable forest of walnut trees. It will be the worst when the presenter asks you to perform some task – read student work, for example – in groups. The trees will slowly turn toward the center, leaves rustling, snarky comments dropping off their branches like walnuts whacking the table. It won’t matter how potentially interesting the activity might be, as soon as they huddle up it will be snark, snark, ugly, ugly, hate, hate. When this happens, recognize that you are surrounded, hold tight to your roots, and remember your marigolds.

Get What You Can, Where You Can

Your search for marigolds will yield imperfect results: Not everyone is all-marigold or all-walnut tree. There will be some in the building who just make you happy – go to them for a mood boost. Some who aren’t terribly good at the teaching part, but love the kids to death – seek them out when you need to be reminded of how much you love them, too. Others will take care of you – encourage you to rest, slack off a little, not beat yourself up. And some who are intensely into the craft, who always have a great strategy on hand and keep up on current research – they can really help you stretch your abilities. Learn who has what marigold qualities and get what you can from each of them.

Finally, try to find some compassion for the walnut trees. Their toxicity comes from a place of real pain, and they themselves probably fell under the influence of the walnut trees who came before them. Plus, it’s not like their complaints have no basis in reality. Teaching is a ridiculously hard job, some say almost impossible – like climbing Mount Everest (if you’ll allow for one last metaphor). Still, you’re aware of the difficulty, and though many before you have failed, you have accepted the challenge.

Before you climb that peak, you’ll need to choose a sherpa to escort you through the trek. The first option is Walter Nutt, who starts by asking why in the world you’d want to do something like this. He describes the many others who have died trying to do this climb, how sick you’ll get, how people have polluted the trail, all but destroying what was once a pristine and beautiful mountain. The second option, Mary Gold, congratulates you on your courage, sits down with you to map out some important strategies, and finishes off by saying It’s a crazy-hard, mammoth task, but you know what? We’re going to kick that mountain’s ass.

Who do you want leading you up that peak?

Find your marigolds and stick close to them. Grow big and strong. Kick that mountain’s ass. ♦

 

Download a PDF of This Article
You may want a copy for yourself or to give to your Marigold (something from the Marigold Collection in our shop would make a great gift!). To download your own copy, click here to sign up for our mailing list, and the PDF will be on its way to your inbox.

 

87 Comments

  1. Brandy says:

    This was EXACTLY what it was like when I first started. I really had to look to find the right people to help me navigate through the toxic jungle! I still remember the day in early November when I seriously thought I would walk out the door and never return. That was the day my mentor knocked on my door and said, “I’m here to help you.” And she did!

    • Brandy, I love that she knew intuitively that you needed it. I think a lot of first-year teachers are just afraid to ask for help, and they drown in that.

    • Thank You for this article, Jennifer! and thank God for Mentor teachers!!

    • Daniel Oates says:

      There is definitely some merit in finding people with whom you can relate, and who are supportive. You do, however, have to be careful of being cliquish. I have seen people “marigold” with each other to such an extent that they shut their other staff members out. This only encourages devision and resentment. We have to be careful about creating labels that categorize people as marigolds and walnuts. I believe everyone on my staff brings something to the table. You may be labeling someone as a walnut, when it may be just a personality difference. You have to be careful about creatiing an “us” and “them” mentality. Not everyone is easy to get along with, but we have to try to see the value in all around us. If we clique off, we potentially shut out the input and skills of others, and if you see them as a walnut rather than as someone with potential, then you have placed a permanent negative label upon them, leaving no room for redemption. My philosophy is never to form a clique. I speak to everyone and try to see the potential in all. I do not create labels, and try to realize that I may have to work closely with anyone at any time. Labels do not help. It is a jungle sometimes, and negativity exists in all workplaces, but we should especially make the effort towards the negative Nellies to try to show them that life can be great if we all work together and respect one another. The next time you come across someone you have labelled as a walnut, try offering help or making a connection. I have found that often, that is exactly what they need.

      • Daniel, I think this is good advice for teachers who already have their feet under them, who have the confidence to recognize that a negative colleague may just need support and help. I’ve found, though, that new teachers can be incredibly vulnerable to negative comments from colleagues. If someone had come along my first year and given me this advice, I would have done so much better. I would have been able to identify those who seemed dead-set on discouraging me as trapped in their own negativity, rather than taking their words as gospel. It took me a loooong time to develop my own filter, and I think these labels (although some may find them reductionist and insulting) could make that process quicker for others.

        I think an effort to help teachers who have burned out or who have experienced too many soul-crushing mandates over the years is absolutely worthwhile, but in this post, my goal is to protect new teachers from burning out before they even get started. I also agree that cliques can be just awful, further driving out teachers who are already heading into a negative spiral. I would encourage experienced teachers who are true marigolds to continue to reach out to those teachers, encourage them, and help them break out of those roles.

        Thanks so much for your thoughtful contribution, Daniel.

  2. This is spot on! I love the “walnut trees” idea–especially during PD. I think there are times when you finally have to call “uncle” and go plant yourself in another school and try again. It helps to be okay with that.

  3. Emilee says:

    I was very luck to be paired with a mentor during my student teaching and first year of teaching (at the same school) who as a marigold. She was always positive herself, but, more importantly, she taught me about being a team player. One morning, a teacher on our team had a sick child and called my marigold mentor. My marigold got of the phone with our team team teacher, turned to me, and said “This is what you do for your co-workers. We drop everything and help each other.” So went over to her classroom and got her sub plans together forsaking our plans we had that morning before the bell.

    Now, a few years into my teaching and a team leader in another grade, I follow her example. I have a first year teacher on my team. “Oh, you need to print something and aren’t hooked up to the printer? Let’s go to my room right now and you can use my number.” “Oh, you’re not sure what to write in your sub plans? Here’s a copy of mine you can use as a jump-off point. After all, I copied another teacher’s when I needed sup plans!” She has taught me to be a team player, and it makes teaching a lot more bearable when you know someone has your back.

    Just this week, I’ve been home sick and my same, marigold mentor, who is not on my team nor is she in the same grade as me, dropped everything to help me get my sub plans together and communicated those plans with my sub. It took such a burden off of me. I know without my marigold mentor, my school experience would’ve been much different. I’m very thankful.

    And I can definitely relate to Kim’s post about the walnut trees coming out during PD! Teachers, I know you don’t deserve to be treated like students during PD, so don’t act like them. Put your phones up and stop posting how bored you are on Facebook. What’s hardest is finding a balance between venting and bitching. I think most teachers think they’re “venting” when they’re really “bitching.” How can I tell? Because they do it ALL THE TIME. Teachers that are usually very positive that say something that’s bothering them – I can deal with that. I’m going to take a step back and make sure I’m dealing with my teaching frustrations in the right way, because even though my teaching friends can relate to my frustrations, they still don’t need to hear them all the time. Trust me, they already know about teaching frustrations.

    • I love that she taught you how to look out for other teachers. It’s a perfect example of how one person can really nurture a sense of community in a school. We treat other people the way we are treated, and starting in a new school kind of puts you back at square one, where you’re learning how to interact with other staff members through the models that you’re given.

      I also completely agree that hearing a complaint from someone who is usually positive is so different from hearing one from a generally negative person. I tend to take it way more seriously when a positive person has a gripe — it seems more legitimate, somehow, not just part of their overall personality. I get the sense that they are complaining about something that’s standing in their way of doing a really good job, not just another piece of evidence that the world sucks.

      I’m really enjoying your comments, Emilee. Thanks so much for helping to build our community!

  4. Talita says:

    Awesome! I want to be a marigold, not only with co-workers but with people who surround me.

    • I do think this applies outside of teaching, too. Everywhere, the people you surround yourself with can really impact your experiences. Making the decision to BE a marigold rather than just find one is an admirable step. Nice one, Talita!

  5. Irina Shatrova says:

    I WILL translate it for my colleagues.

    • Jenna Ladd says:

      I’m 23, two months out of my undergrad degree, and a week away from my first teaching job for 8th grade ELA after moving to a different state three weeks ago. I’ve been struggling deeply with anxiety about my abilities as a new teacher for the past few months, and this post was so incredibly comforting! Thank you so much for helping me understand that all I have to do is lean on my “Marigold” when I get stuck. I have met a few of the other teachers at this school, and they all have been so helpful and kind. Thank you so much for your wisdom and peace provided through this post! 🙂

  6. becky65 says:

    A dear friend and teaching colleague sent me this link and the Marigold post resonated deeply. I find that the Walnut trees are often very against trying something new. Change is a threat,and like their deep and knarled roots lying intertwined under the earth, their deep rooted fear of innovation has a impact on their students, as their natural curiosity is stunted. How sad..however there is always a marigold around a corner. Detection is the secret! I loved this happy, optimistic post. Thanks, Becky

  7. Charles Moore says:

    Note to Retirement Dan: As any good author knows, the last chapters of your book should be your best chapters.

  8. SUCH a good reminder for any teacher as we walk back into our buildings in the days and weeks ahead!

  9. I was thinking about posting something to my former students who are now educations, and this is perfect. Much thanks.

  10. I LOVE This! I will be sharing this article with all my teacher friends, not just new teachers. I strive to be a marigold in a world of walnut trees, and to nurture more marigolds!

  11. Celeste says:

    This is great! My friend sent this to me. I’m starting my first year of teaching, and this definitely speaks to me. Thank you!

    • You’re welcome! I hope it helps you sort through the people you come in contact with, so you can filter their input in a way that’s healthy for you.

  12. Juan Richardosn says:

    I am getting ready to do a full year of student teaching at a pilot program for my university. I know the power of having good and bad co-workers, and honestly I am a little nervous about getting a walnut tree. I love kids and I love teaching (so far), and my concern is that if I do get a walnut tree, then will I be strong enough to resist for an entire school year? I’d like to think I can, but you never know. Now that I have read something that specifically calls out people for what they are and who to look for, I will most definitely be on the lookout for my own marigold.

  13. cw says:

    Love this ! and yes PD- thank God from another school. It really has inspired me to want to be a marigold- I can sadly identify with the not so positive descriptions- and being poisoned by the giant walnut tree of bureaucracy.

  14. Gah! You put so much truth into words so well! Especially the types of walnut trees. Thank you for helping me try to name them (in my head, of course). -Shanna

  15. Teresa says:

    It seems that the bigger the school the higher percentage of walnut trees. I think they infect others so rapidly, they have more ability to spread in a larger staff. Thankfully I’m in a little school again and it is highly populated with Marigolds. Loving it!

  16. Lisa says:

    The bit about Walnut Trees & Administrators or The Principal. Sometimes there IS a bad Principal. I subbed for a number of years with the same school. We had four years with two wonderful Principals… then one year with one who really didn’t know what he was doing – and didn’t know how to lead. The bit about not knowing how to lead was a hard row to hoe for a Principal of a school on a military base – especially when half of the teachers either had experience as military or military spouses. It was a REALLY hard year on all of us, as teachers and parents (I had two students in the school)… After all those years with awesome Admin, it really left a sour taste in the mouth.

    • Judy Harris says:

      I agree. Sometimes we can love our jobs, love our kids but our school district and board of ed can bring us so much b.s. that it makes it so difficult to stay positive. I have had 11 principals in 15 years and admit I have been most of these at one time or another but each and every year I work on my attitude, my teaching spirit and my relationships with fellow teachers.

  17. Interesting article.

  18. What great advise! I liked it on a personal level as well. I do tend to make disparaging remarks about our principal who cares seems to care nothing about me or art….I will watch my remarks this year! Thanks Jennifer !

  19. I love, love, love this post. We can all find ourselves being influenced by walnuts! Keep strong and find the marigolds!

  20. What a great article. We blogged about a similar topic after an experience with walnut tree. This is such good advice for all teachers. Thanks so much for sharing. 🙂

  21. Jennifer, this is so well written and explained! I love having this article ready to share with the many new teachers I come across in my line of work. I know firsthand how many talented teachers we lose because they were among walNUTs instead of the the beautiful Marigolds. Thank you!!!

  22. Michael says:

    After 20+ years in PreK-12, the last 13 of which were as an administrator, I learned a lot about – and a lot from – Marigolds and Walnut Trees. I try to offer a Marigold presence with my current undergraduate college teaching. You’re probably not surprised to hear that, at the college/univ. level, we have some of our own marigolds & walnut trees. And, isn’t it true how our students’ learning is broadened and deepened when they have the chance to thrive with Marigold – no matter what age the students are?! Thanks for a great resource, Jennifer!

  23. Tina says:

    A friend and coworker posted this on our school email and I am so glad that she did! I have run into many walnut trees thru the years and sometimes catch myself growing a few roots every now and then. Thankfully, thru her and other marigolds that I come in contact with on a daily basis; I somehow” uproot” myself and transplant myself in fields closer to them. There have been many times in the past 5 years (nearly 20 years in all) that I have wanted to seek more enriched soil and plant myself closer to the highlands and thrive there among the heather. As it is, I’m a sunflower,standing straight and tall. I drop my head every now and then and allow a few seeds to fall …but, when the sun comes out I reach for the sky, find my strength once again, talk to my fellow marigolds and all is well.The smiles, laughter and that rare “ah ha” moment make it all worthwhile :).

  24. Erin says:

    At the risk of sounding like a walnut tree, I would like to express a concern about this article, which was presented at a school PD today. We are trying to build a better staff community, especially since almost half of our staff is made up of new teachers this year. So our administration began with this article. As soon as people began reading the snarky descriptions of negative types of teachers, they started saying things like, “I know who that is.” and “I know a walnut tree that is gone this year and I’m so glad.” I don’t think we can build better teaching communities by creating mean labels for people. It’s going to be difficult to be understanding and compassionate to those you’ve minimized to silly names like Twenty-Page Tina and My-Time Margaret. I think it’s important to highlight the kinds of teachers people need to seek out for guidance, but belittling the others is not helpful, especially if you truly believe that they need support too.

    • Hi Erin,

      Thank you for this. You know, it’s easier for me to be compassionate to the people I’ve labeled here because I am no longer working with them…it’s only with the help of time that I am able to see them more clearly as people who are defensive and hurting in their own way. But as a new teacher, I let people like that make me feel just awful, like I was doing a terrible job, like I was naive and clueless, and most importantly, ignorant for not disliking students as much as they did. I wrote this with the intent of helping new teachers understand that it is not THEM, the new teachers, who are deficient. My hope was that by creating the labels, it would help the teachers who look for positivity learn to spot toxic personalities more easily, and by spotting them, be ready for what comes next: the persistent negativity that can poison an energetic, creative teacher. By labeling them, I hope to take some of their power away. Because they can be incredibly powerful.

      Still, your point is well taken, and in the two years since I wrote this, I have often thought I needed to write a follow-up piece on the different kinds of marigolds. Marigolds come in so many shades, and each type nurtures other teachers in different ways. I agree that celebrating the positive, labeling the good, is a healthier and less snarky approach. I have my own bruises from my own walnut trees, so my first move was to go after them. Maybe it’s time to put more energy into lifting up the marigolds.

      • Erin says:

        Thank you for your response Jennifer. I feel terrible about your teaching experience and being influenced by negative and mean coworkers. There are definitely some rough situations out there. I think just about anyone in any job has run into people who make it hard and nearly impossible to be positive and feel successful. It’s a challenging part of life, learning how to identify these situations, how to survive, and hopefully to make a change.

        I think that you can discuss the types of negativity that can be encountered as a teacher without minimizing the problem to mean labels. I believe that you can provide comfort and strength to others without throwing back the behaviors that have been pounding you into the ground. But it’s hard, especially when you have been hurt badly and are angry. Like you said, sometimes it takes time to see things clearly.

        Thank you for considering a more positive approach by defining the positive personalities that should be sought out for guidance. You actually started doing that in the original blog post. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone who had been feeling negative could be inspired to emulate a positive description? It would be nice to have a list of great teacher qualities and recognize staff for their strengths and build people up. I very much look forward to reading your follow-up piece.

        • I would love to read what Erin is requesting here. I do like the power in your labels though – they make the characteristics very stark and easy to identify. If we have teachers who quickly recognize some walnut traits in themselves once they read this piece, how do they come out of there and start their slow, painful but sure transformation to a marigold? Some resources on how marigolds could encourage this transformation in their walnut trees would be useful for all parties involved.

  25. Evan says:

    “And sadly, if your school is like most, walnut trees will be abundant.” Isn’t having that state of mind in itself characteristic of a walnut tree?

    • Maybe. Is it not true? Should new teachers not be warned about this?

      • Cindy says:

        Absolutely true. Walnut trees are abundant. Starting out 25 years ago as a new teacher, I never ever dreamed that I would start turning into one. But it’s happening. For me and so many others. And why? Simple. Our profession is currently in he midst of the most radical changes we have ever experienced. What was once a student centered, developmentally appropriate, joyful environment where learning took place through discovery and curiosity is now a just another for-profit enterprise where our students and children are pawns in a game of federal mandates, constant data collection, evaluation and big business.
        Where is the joy in teaching when the so called ‘walnut trees’ begin from the very top and trickle their way down until even the students are tangled in the roots?
        This is the living truth in education, and the real reason many new teachers end their careers less than 3-5 years after they begin. The idea of being a teacher, the calling of being a teacher, the knowledge from perhaps a young age, that you are meant to be a teacher – these are so much more fulfilling than the actual ‘career’ of being a teacher in 2016.
        When I began my career, it was all I had dreamed about, planned for- creativity, diverse experiences and opportunities for learning, joy and laughter, math lessons, engaging literature, science lessons with ‘oooh! and ahhh!’ experiments, daily compassion and unconditional love of the students and respect and satisfaction for the accomplishments, no matter how big or small, of every day.
        Today, there is hardly time to get to really know these students that sit in front of us each day. Oh, we know LOTS and LOTS about every last little iota of data we could possibly be mandated to collect. We know all their test scores. We know where they rank in their class, in our school, in our state, across the nation. We know day to day and week to week which RTI group they will need to be placed in or moved to. We now even have such a thing called RTI? We know which standards and objectives they have not yet met and we have made a plan and least seven back-ups to get them there.
        But we don’t ‘know’ them. Remember when it was most important and you generally were concerned to get to ‘know’ your students? When you could connect with each child and better understand how to communicate and educate the whole child? When you could just enjoy walking into the classroom where it felt like your second home and you were a family?
        If you are a new teacher, it’s possible you don’t have these connections, these invaluable tools and strategies that not only create the most growth in our students, but create a deep bond between teacher and individual students, allowing for a trust and relationship unlike any other. School is our second home; for many students, a better home.
        I always knew that I was going to be a teacher; possibly from birth. From as far back as I can remember, nursery school even, I played school (I was ALWAYS the teacher). Now I watch my daughter play ‘school’ and it breaks my heart. You know what she calls it? ‘Testing’. She’s 12. It’s all she knows. She has a whole little classroom with centers and desks in her playroom, and then all she does is pull her imaginary (or real, if she can trap her sister or some friends) students up to another room for ‘testing’.
        If you didn’t think about this before, think about it now. We are creating a nation of test-takers. We are taking time off task and valuable instruction (LOTS of time) to teach how to test (because although most students do not have basic typing skills, tests are now given on technology), what’s on the test (you know what PARCC is? We have to guess what’s on the test; Pearson won’t tell us or apparently they’d have to sue us if we knew), and of course, practice for the test. In between this insane misuse of time, we spend hours weekly creating, documenting and analyzing data to be sure each child is sufficiently prepared for the test.
        That looks something like this: pulling aside a child to scan skills through a formal or informal assessment (while other students do independent work, or maybe have a sub in the room), document the assessments on a daily or weekly basis (on our own time, because who has time or that during the school day with students in front if you eager for your time; rightfully theirs), and analyzing the data (in Professional Learning Communities, where teachers spend more time out of the classroom to compare data with colleagues and explain to Focused Instructional Coaches and principals how this data shows growth and what we have done to create it). By the way, ever recall having Focused Instructional Coaches or Curriculum Directors before?
        At the risk of furthering myself as a walnut tree, I will end by saying that until action is taken to bring the power of this profession back to the people on the front lines every day, interacting and making a difference in lives of students who we are helping mold into respectful, responsible citizens; the corporatization of education will eventually be our demise. Within the four walls of my classroom, we do everything we can to have a garden of marigolds. There is no happier place for these children to be, in those hours, I feel the same. However, when the bell rings, I spend my time advocating against Federal mandates, big business ‘edupreneurs’, and supporting the ‘less testing, more learning’ movement to bring back the joy, creativity, interest and love of learning that has created so many walnut trees have stolen from my profession of choice. Yes, walnut trees are abundant. Marigolds, stand up, but, also – speak up. Bring back the joy and value of American education.

        • AMEN!!!

          • Gudrun says:

            Yes, I totally relate. I’m still a marigold but I’m fighting to be healthy and find the sun in the shade of the walnut tree!

        • Lisa says:

          Yes! While there are certainly walnut trees that can be negative just for the sake of being negative, there are others who have legitimately reached a point of frustration after many years of experience in an educational climate that is broken and needs change. When you hear those teachers complain, it is because they are pushing for change. They have witnessed years of initiatives that have sucked time awae, have only made things more difficult without results, and almost always end up falling by the wayside for the next “big and new” initiative. Walnut trees are often the ones who are exposing the nonsense and presenting legitimate and realistic ideas. While I understand the warning of this article, I think it is important not to portray walnut trees as a threat…often they can be an inspiration to the next generation of teachers to stand up for themselves and push for change.

    • p.s. It definitely is food for thought. I will ponder this one.

  26. Kate says:

    Thank you for this! A colleague kindly sent it and labelled me a marigold and this is making me think of and thank all the marigolds around me. I especially like the advice to find compassion for the walnut trees; in a “closed environment” like school, it is easy to poison oneself by dwelling on the poison of those walnuts one encounters often. Developing compassion is a much healthier approach. Thanks for an insightful and inspiring article!

  27. Fabulous article… I read it twice. I love the walnut trees Jennifer.

  28. sherryn moore says:

    No you are right to warn them about people like that. That way they can identify them when they come across them and are well equipped to deal with them.
    I loved this so much! Thank you.
    I also don’t think they are ‘mean labels’ just reality!

  29. May I re-blog this post onto my blog? You have some wonderful ideas that even experienced 2nd year teachers need to know. I’m retired from full time teaching, but have my blog that I hope is helpful to others who are still in the education field. Please let me know.

    • Hi Patricia. I’m so glad you are enjoying the material on my site!

      Although it is against my blog policy to allow reblogging of a full post (because Google penalizes duplicate content and it could actually hurt my site), I would be perfectly fine if you wrote a post about the Marigold article, quoted a few significant sentences, then link your readers over to my original post, the same way you did for the Leah Davies article about student cell phones. I hope this works for you, and I appreciate you asking.

  30. Stasia says:

    *cringe* – I realize I have had my walnut tree moments! I vow to try harder to be a marigold 😉

  31. Anna says:

    I love this post and I found it to be an incredibly thought provoking read (even though I was ending my third year as a teacher!)
    It made me realize that I had a few walnut trees (and unfortunately worked closely with a pretty big one) in my school that I spent time with, and they were turning me into one as well. Reading this brought it to my attention and really made me value those marigolds in my life, and the increased awareness helped me start working on getting rid of those negative tendencies in my own attitude. Actively distancing myself from a close, but very negative co-worker seriously improved this past year of teaching and my own attitude!
    I recently passed this “story” on to another new teacher and told her that it was one of the biggest and best pieces of advice that I could give her.

  32. Danielle says:

    I have worked in an elementary school for 9 years as a paraprofessional and have recently completed my teaching degree for regular ed and special ed. This article speaks VOLUMES!!! I could pick out my marigolds and the walnut trees. It is a great visual for me as I look for my first teaching position! Thank you so much!!

  33. This post is still as relevant to me as the first day I read it. Thank you for giving me such an apt analogy for being able to pinpoint the negativity I experienced in the staff climate and morale at my previous school. I share this post with all new teachers I know (and even those who have been in the field for years!). I shared a reflection on this piece and my experience on an education blog I contribute to today; you can read it here.

  34. Thank you so much for this! I also teach preservice and appreciate your thoughts.

  35. Amber Boggs says:

    I believe you forgot One-Up Wilma in the walnut tree list. Everything is a competition and it’s exhausting, especially when they are next door and one must ask them to explain procedures on a daily basis. Ugh.

  36. What a fantastic (and spot on) article – I loved it, thank you for sharing!

  37. Gudrun says:

    I liked the article but I felt too much emphasis was put on all the negative stereotypes. Yes, we have them in teaching but they are in every profession. After 25+ years of teaching, I have come to learn that these stereotyped teachers and even the walnut trees have some wisdom and things to share. It’s so easy to criticize teachers who are close to retirement but let’s remember what they have contributed. Perhaps I am a bit sensitive because I am near retirement myself. I’ve also learned over the years that if a colleague has a bad attitude or is struggling, you should always look at what else is happening in their lives and what is happening in the very political realm of education change. I’ve worked at many schools and generally, teachers are good people with different strengths.

    • Hi Gudrun,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. I want to point out that none of these Walnut Trees are necessarily on their way toward retirement. Even “Retirement Dan” is merely FOCUSED on retirement, but not necessarily close to it. My own personal Twenty-Page Tina was actually a year younger than me. It’s more of a mindset. I agree that this post focuses on the negative stereotypes, but in my own experience, no one had ever clearly identified the types for me, so I was pretty vulnerable to their influence. If I had been able to recognize a Badass Bobby for what he is, I wouldn’t have been so insulted or hard on myself when he made comments like that. My hope is that these stereotypes can empower the average teacher to recognize a particular flavor of negativity when it presents itself, and strip it of some of its power over them.

      I agree that every teacher has strengths and wisdom to share. The thing is, the teacher who could receive that wisdom needs to have enough inner strength, confidence, and self-awareness to be able to separate the wisdom from the poison. For an inexperienced teacher, this is really difficult, if not impossible.

      I have been asked by other readers to write a follow-up post that explores the different types of marigolds teachers could be. This would place more emphasis on the positive, the direction we should be heading. Your note reminds me that it may be high time for me to write it. Thanks for taking the time to join the conversation here.

  38. Roxy says:

    Thank you for the post, Brandy. I received this article via an email from someone in my school district. I am a new Educational Assistant, and think this is a great way to start off the year. I have definitely found my marigolds, and have come across some walnuts when I was subbing last year. I am usually good at reading people’s vibes, and can generally spot a walnut from a mile a way (though not always!) And make sure to steer clear. Very inspirational. Thank you!

  39. Roxy says:

    Oops, i don’t know why I typed Brandy instead of Jennifer! So sorry!

  40. Gudrun says:

    Wow Jennifer, you are so committed. Thank you for responding so quickly to my post. Your page generates so much great discussion and features such timely topics. I really enjoy following you. Thanks.

  41. Amalia says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    I’m a preservice high school Math teacher at the University of Illinois gearing up for my last semester of student teaching and (hopefully!) my first year teaching. I was really intrigued by your blog and the idea that you’ve done all the sorting and have found all the best articles that will help me become a better teacher. I read this article because I found it on the About page and I had 6 minutes like you said. I like the simple idea of surrounding yourself with people that lift you up, instead of bring you down. I also really liked that you said your Marigold doesn’t have to be in your grade or subject area. I would like to ask you one question though. Do you have any strategies to make yourself more of a Marigold? Are there any questions you would ask yourself to get back on a positive track when you didn’t have your own Marigold nearby?

  42. Carol says:

    If we hadn’t had a Marigold in our past, the majority of us would not be teachers today. The future will be bright if we are Marigolds for each other and for the students that will become our future teachers.

  43. Paul Dufficy says:

    My first year of teaching was in a tough school that served public housing estates on Sydney’s fringe. It was 1978. I picked a role model because he treated kids with care, humour, trust and belief. I have never forgotten Bob Cureton. Thirty years later I was able to pass this onto him through his daughter who was a student in my teacher education (EAL) class at the University of Sydney.

  44. Betsey Neal says:

    I love this fabulous and so eloquently written article. All teachers, both new and old, should read about the walnut trees and marigolds. Bless you Mary Golds on my path! You know who you are.

  45. Shannon Burns says:

    Jennifer, I would like to quote this article in an address I will soon make to the retiring class of 2017. Is it correct to attribute the “Marigold theory” to you? If not, what is the origin of this idea? To me it embodies a wonderful aspect of our profession. I have already thanked mine.

  46. Jennifer, with every paragraph of this post I found more validation for what I have experienced in my ten years of teaching. Every bit, spot on. Besides teacher-to-teacher, however, I began mentally applying the Marigold theory to my students in leadership positions. I believe by presenting your theory – and blog post – to student leaders, they could become marigolds for the newcomers to our program (publications).
    As I finished up the article, having been awed all the way through, I looked at the PDF thumbnail image at the end and recognized it. I realized this had been shared with me previously, but I’d never taken the time to read it. Pity, that was. Someone had thought to share this specifically with me and I never read it. I cannot remember if it was a hard copy I moved from stack to stack on my desk, planning to read when I had time, or if it was an opened tab on my desktop I kept looking at, thinking, “maybe at lunch today.” But it saddens me that I missed an opportunity to thank them for it.

  47. Among The Treasures - Becky says:

    Oh my goodness. This. I am headed to the garden center to purchase marigolds for some of my teacher friends. (One might get a bag of walnuts). 😉

  48. Joe Crichton says:

    I should have read this article years ago. I received my Teaching Certificate 40+ years ago, before going to seminary and the ministry. I enjoy teaching and could have used these tips in the ministry and especially when I hired on with the state as a Max Prison Chaplain. I identified many fellow employees of all the types. I even identified at times with some of the negative ones. As a family counselor I saw these traits in many parents and could see the results in their children. Thanks for this article.

  49. I can’t believe this is 4 years old and I’m just now seeing it. I will be sharing this far and wide. It is so beautiful, so true, such good advice. I believe I was once a marigold in a forest of walnut trees and I lost a piece of myself a long the way. I hope to be a marigold again some day. I’m off to buy a coffee cup! <3

  50. This is one of the BEST articles I’ve read that supports new teachers. If I were still a principal, I’d probably ask all staff to read it to help the novices and as a reminder for those more experienced. I love the ‘positive phrasing’ to describe the less than positive attributes of the walnut trees. Thank you Ms. Gonzalez for writing it and thanks to my friend Judi who referenced it on her facebook page.

  51. Glee Rice says:

    Excellent article! I must ask, however, why all the “ass-kicking” references? We’re professionals! Would love to share with colleagues.

    • Hi Glee! I’m so glad you liked it! All I can tell you is that this is the most-read and most-shared post on my site, so my guess is that most of the people who read it can handle those mild cases of profanity. I think if I had replaced it with “butt-kicking” it wouldn’t have had the same oomph. The difference between this site and a strictly professional publication is that I write like I talk in person, like we’re sitting together having coffee, while still sharing high-quality information. For those who enjoy that kind of thing, it is a rare treat in education. For those who don’t, there are TONS of other websites out there that keep things strictly professional.

  52. Deborah Gatrell says:

    This article is amazing. I saw it floating around on social media over the summer and was given a copy at mentor training earlier this month but I only just got around to reading it. I’ve just shared it with all the new teachers (and my fellow mentors) in the building and hope it will get read so we can spark some positive discussions. My schools culture is quite good – we have amazing administrators and great kids. The job is a ton of work, but that’s why we find such great rewards in changing our kids’ lives.

    Thank you for sharing this insight!

  53. Mark T. Casadevall says:

    Hi Jennifer, my daughter Holly introduced me to your webpage and this story. I am conducting leadership training at many of my company’s locations and plan to share your story to all of the teams.

    We ALL have the choice of not only working with “marigolds” or “walnut trees” but choosing to be either one as well!

    Great analogy!

    Sincerely,

    Mark C.

  54. Mandy B. says:

    I enjoyed this article. I tried to sign up and download but it keeps telling me that my email address is invalid. 🙁 I’ve tried all four that I have.

  55. Shelly Vroegh says:

    This article has been a game-changer for me! As a state Teacher of the Year and teacher leader, I have used it to not only think about how I can be a marigold for other teachers but also as I teach workshops to new teachers and teacher leaders. Every time I do the workshop and reference your article I get rave reviews. It helps our new teachers realize they are not alone and to be successful they have to seek out those people who will support and encourage them. For teacher-leaders, the article and workshop have allowed them to reflect on their own qualities and characteristics in order to help them cultivate their marigold qualities. Your articles always hit the nail on the head and inspire me to be a better educator and person. Thank you!

  56. I love this metaphor and I think you framed it perfectly as advice for new (or really any) teachers. Thanks for sharing it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.