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.
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.
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. ♦
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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!!
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.
This is a wonderful article, Jennifer! I adore the metaphors used as marigolds are one of my favorite flowers! haha
I am an 8th yr high school teacher who recovered from the burn-out crisis (once) and am careful to create boundaries and take better care of myself, also urging others to do so in a loving way- not Walnut-style! 🙂
I was also quick to notice, as you pointed out, if there is a clique where others are not invited, those may not be the TRUE marigolds!
Going to share this article! Much gratitude!
Amen Daniel, very proffesional and well spoken.
Thank you Daniel. Very well stated and I agree. As working adults, we should be able to pick those that bring out the best in us. Much like telling kids, choose your friends wisely as they can have a positive or negative effect on you. Who knows, as a new teacher, you could be the positive that changes the negative…
I like your take on this, Daniel.
Daniel I think your response is spot on. I think the teaching profession unfortunately breeds cliques and it usually starts from the top of the organization. It’s best for new teachers to work hard that first year and observe the behaviors of the teachers around them because oftentimes the marigolds are walnut trees in disguise.
Well said. Totally agree. We have seen this happen at our school recently. It became toxic.
Daniel, I agree with your concern on the labeling and the clique forming. People are not black or white (brown or gold in this case). We are stronger together. There must be a better way to deal with negativity than this.
Thank you Daniel. I thoroughly agree with your response to this column.
So right about avoidance of cliques…bang on target…. but… for newly qualified teachers too big an ask for them to support the negative element in their staff room and cope with such an enormous task that teaching is… let them be given whole hearted support first few years.. we need to treat our fledgling teachers as the prexious gems they are.. keep them safe ..like eggs in a box as my grandmother would say!!🥰
I agree with the above comment. . I believe that there is something I can learn that is positive from all of my coworkers. I find this post a little like a walnut tree itself. I do my best to accept those I work with and I believe they all provide professional and personal lessons. This type of stuff creates anxiety and division- that someone’s bad attitude will be catchy. I think it is critical to find your teacher besties. Even “Retirement Dan” and “Good Old Days Judy” has some good lessons for new teachers in the trenches!
I find the labeling of teachers to be a real issue with this article. It’s not the type of attitude towards coworkers that will build a cohesive environment. Instead it will undermine trust and create clicks. All teachers work hard and should be appreciated for their gifts. Don’t label us with these silly names. Many teachers are willing to help. Even when they are tired and struggling with a rough year. And now there are more rough years than easy ones.
I agree Sally, even more so I had to experience this idea of marigolds and walnut trees 5 years ago at a new teacher orientation. As a 40 year old interacting with mostly teachers fresh out of college I already felt a little out of place. Add in the affect of older teachers being likened to walnut trees and younger teachers marigolds, I was really offended. The entire premise is divisive. Some of those so called “walnut trees” have legitimate concern with admin, school policies, the high expectations of teachers and more. They are often fighting for teachers rights and positive change.
Not everyone can be a marigold… but perhaps there is a marigold deep within some of those walnut trees.
My daughter is a soon to be teacher. I am older and much wiser than I used to be. I don’t teach in a school… but in healthcare, I teach those who follow me and those who do clinical internships. I love remembering WHY I do what I do… and I am so glad to be reminded of how contagious a marigold (and a walnut tree) attitude can be.
I walk away with a goal to keep looking for my marigolds.
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.
I love what Kim says. There is never late to look for a place in which you can grow as you are. You are unique, therefore what will grow out of you will be unique. No labels, just help others and enjoy your everyday life.
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!
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!
I WILL translate it for my colleagues.
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! 🙂
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
Note to Retirement Dan: As any good author knows, the last chapters of your book should be your best chapters.
Love this, Charles. Thanks for sharing it.
SUCH a good reminder for any teacher as we walk back into our buildings in the days and weeks ahead!
Amen. I was a teacher for many years and am now in administration. This resonates with me and implan to use this as the opening to my back to school staff meeting. And will have little marigold seed packets or magnets to remind staff to be a marigold.
I was thinking about posting something to my former students who are now educations, and this is perfect. Much thanks.
Thanks for spreading the word, Gina!
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!
Yes, Andrea! I never thought of it that way, but the end goal of any Marigold’s work is to create new Marigolds!!
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.
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.
If you get a walnut tree, you can be their marigold.
NICE. That is perfect, Matthew.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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 !
I love, love, love this post. We can all find ourselves being influenced by walnuts! Keep strong and find the marigolds!
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. 🙂
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!!!
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!
Wow ! lovely and inspirational article for everyone, well said in life situations also we met these types of people,i myself gone through so many walnut trees in my life, but better to focus on the positive side Nd try to learn gud things from everyone, only then a person remains happy.
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 :).
Lovely. Thank you for this.
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.
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.
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.
I agree with you, Erin. I really like the point of the article and will share it with our new teachers. As a principal, I would not have the whole staff read this in PD because it might imply that I have categorized the teachers as either marigolds or walnut trees and am trying to give them an indirect message. In my school I try to model marigold-like qualities and create conditions that allow positive relationships to flourish. We do have some teachers with walnut tree tendencies but the marigolds are great at redirecting any negativity. When teachers feel listened to, respected, and given opportunities to give real input, most will become marigolds.
“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?
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.
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!
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.
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!
Fabulous article… I read it twice. I love the walnut trees Jennifer.
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!
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.
*cringe* – I realize I have had my walnut tree moments! I vow to try harder to be a marigold 😉
I am in the same boat. I have definitely been a walnut before.
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.
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!!
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.
Thank you so much for this! I also teach preservice and appreciate your thoughts.
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.
What a fantastic (and spot on) article – I loved it, thank you for sharing!
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.
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.
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!
Oops, i don’t know why I typed Brandy instead of Jennifer! So sorry!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yes! It definitely started here, Shannon. Thanks for asking!!
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.
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). 😉
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
Hi, Mandy! This is Holly, a Customer Experience Manager. Please send us an email via our Contact Us page with this message and the email you’d most like to use, and we’ll get you set up as soon as possible!
Mandy, I’m so sorry! Are you going in through Facebook? Sometimes that form doesn’t work properly when the person is still in the Facebook browser. Try pasting this URL into a regular browser (like Chrome or Firefox) and see if it works: https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/marigold-offer/
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!
I love this metaphor and I think you framed it perfectly as advice for new (or really any) teachers. Thanks for sharing it.
I am going into student teaching this spring and I am nervous but excited! I truly don’t want to be affected by the walnut trees. How exactly would I go about finding and spending time with a marigold? How do I show them my interest in their classroom and methods without offending my host teacher? Is there enough time to get to know all of the teachers in the school?
Thanks for sharing this!
Hi Sanela! This is Holly, a Customer Experience Manager. Congratulations on making it this far! In my own experience, “finding time” was a feat in and of itself during student teaching, so I was lucky enough to have marigolds come to me. In fact, I would consider my host teacher a marigold, so I wish the same for you! I wasn’t able to get to know all the teachers, but that was before I’d found Cult of Pedagogy and learned how important this is.
If you haven’t yet, I’d highly suggest reading What Advice Would You Give a Student Teacher?. The post is great, but even more value comes from the incredibly long list of comments!
Best of luck!
Thank you so much for this. We lost our greatest marigold, Lori, last year to cancer. I first read this just a few weeks before she passed and immediately thought of her. When she passed, it became even more profound. Not only was she our greatest marigold, but she taught her colleagues and students to become marigolds as well. After she died, it sort of became her legacy. It gave me a way to articulate what she meant to us and how we’d continue on without her. Thank you.
It sounds like Lori impacted so many — thank you so much for sharing.
I first read this when you first published it, and I’ve come back to it OVER AND OVER. It’s so true of my beloved school right now that I’m afraid to post it because it’s so on the nose. Every marigold needs a walnut tree to influence, and another marigold to keep them going. Thanks for this reminder. 🙂
Such an amazing post. I’m only sorry I just discovered it now! I am an instructional coach and I’m using it as a basis for a teacher leadership session I am leading on encouraging new teacher talent (in a year when my school is experiencing LOTS of turnover.) I had to honestly cringe at the “Walnut Tree” moments I’ve had myself, and will do my best to help myself (and other teachers) turn their potential walnut tree moments into marigold moments. Thank you so much for the refreshing advice for new teachers!
I’m a new teacher and I’m coming to the end of my first year at a very small alternative education school. There are so many things I love about this school; the students whom are unique and challenging in so many ways, the freedom to experiment with new teaching techniques, tons of flexibility in the classroom, a beautiful spacious space to work in, and an administration that is young, supportive, and open to new ideas. But on the same hand, day after day, my greatest frustration and heart ache lies in the discouragement of the walnut trees that surround me, which are the 5 other teachers I work with. There’s such pressure to fall into that “walnut tree” belief that I feel like my optimism and energy is being met with resentment that’s resulting in me being cast out. Due to this I often feel ostracized by the other teachers, like I’m out of the “clique.” At times I feel alone in the classroom without any support to manage the often extreme behaviors we must deal with on a daily basis. I feel like I’m frequently being called out for even the smallest stumble in behavior management among the staff. I feel as though my belief in the abilities of our students is met with discouragement and even more so resentment.
I’m at a strange crossroads now, desperate for advice, and not really knowing where to turn. Do I stick it out, because I’m just a first year teacher who is simply being put through the grinder. Is there a feeling among senior teachers that “newbies” come in with all their hot ideas when they haven’t put in the time yet to know what it’s like? Do I just keep my head down and keep doing what I love? Or I look for employment else where? Do the pros outweigh the cons because I’ve been told there’s drama and politics every where you go? My mentor has been one marigold, but he’s in a different school and trying to come into each day with optimism and hope in the face of the constant onslaught of feeling like I just don’t belong is even more emotionally draining then the teaching itself.
Any advice would be so greatly appreciated!
Kyly, I work for Cult of Pedagogy and retired after 32 years in the classroom. Here’s what I can share…no, not all veteran teachers are walnuts. In fact, my experience is mostly just the opposite — most embrace the energy and skills that new teachers bring to their community. Having said that — there are always some “walnut” mindsets who spread toxic negative energy. Not only is it damaging to the culture of the staff, but in the long run, it hurts the kids. If you haven’t already, read through the comments at the end of the post, and you’ll see you aren’t alone. Jenn intentionally wrote this post for new teachers who feel the way you do, because she felt this way too.
Things you might consider: 1. Talk to your administration and ask for help. You mentioned they are supportive and open — are they aware of the situation? Share this article with them if they’ve not already seen it. 2. Surround yourself with other teachers who you find to be supportive and positive. Ideally, those teachers would obviously be on your team, otherwise, you need to seek them elsewhere. Staying true to yourself will guide you to doing what’s best for your kids, which is why you’re there. 3. Check out Jenn’s Teacher Collegiality and Teacher Soul boards on Pinterest. There are a lot of resources, so just skim to see if something relevant jumps out at you.
Teaching is hard and it’s even harder when you are emotionally drained and feel disconnected. A school’s culture has a lot to do with leadership, including the leadership of the teachers. I don’t know if a different school is an answer; sometimes it is. I think that’s something you might have to research or talk to others about.
I am a principal in Colorado, and I use this article all the time. You are spot on. I firmly believe that we are all responsible for the energy we bring int a space. We need to spend time with those that make us better, challenge us to think differently. and those that are positive influences. I love your piece and use it in hopes that teachers will think carefully. We all have our walnut moments. But if your lounge partner is 100% walnut…branch out.
Jennifer, what a wonderful piece you wrote! I have coached and mentored first and second-year teachers for many years. By the time they get to me, some have had very difficult experiences with the walnuts at their school. I share about my first year experience as a teacher – much like yours – and that I’m am not an evaluator, but a trusted resource that they can ask anything. I never really understood the lack of sharing knowledge and resources. All I can say is, “Not on my watch.” Going back to those hard days there is one blessing that came out of it. Since no one gave me the answer, I had to go and find it myself. It made for deeper pedagogical knowledge. As challenging as it was, it toughened me up, which was needed for the years to come. Still, a marigold or two would have been nice!
I teach 7/8th grade at a middle school in an extremely affluent community. A large percentage of the teachers live in the town and are teaching at a school they went to during their middle-school years. I’m not a new teacher, but the walnut syndrome abounds in all corners of the building. Every PD, the “it was great years ago” crowd dominates the room. In May the current principal was moved to the district level, and we had a discussion about what type of new principal we wanted to hire. Here is the list of requirements that was sent to the district office:
1. The new principal should not make any changes, things are fine as they are.
2. The new principal should be someone from the town.
3. The new principal should shelve any new tech related items for the next year.
4. There is no need for the principal to check on the teachers, the school has high test score, everything is fine.
There are 4 people I talked to at this school, I hide as much as I can.
Oh wow. That list actually reads like a satire. I can’t believe it’s real.
Keep talking to your four people. And look for small lights in everyone else. My guess is that there are others who are also hiding.
I think I am a walnut/Marigold, but more of a Marigold. I think my walnut tends to come out more around veteran teachers than the newbies. However, I am gong to make sure I am more conscious of my actions and words, esp. around the newbies!:)
I cracked up at your Walnut Tree types. Unfortunately, I have to admit I myself might fit one or two of those types at times. I will do better.:)
Hi Jennifer. I love your blog and have learned so much through it. This article is wonderful..but the problem is that the negative names are labels others give to teachers they may not know very well or who are not part of the “in-crowd”. Unfortunately, my school has cliques. One teacher who shared this post, is a self-proclaimed marigold. Teachers she likes also see her as a marigold. I get along with her but know that she has complained and criticized other teachers to the principal. That is the lowest you can go in my book. I think a true marigold teacher does not brag or consider themselves marigolds; they are humble and sincere with their helpfulness to all, not just to the other popular teachers. Some of the walnut trees may not be that way once you get to know them and they know they can trust you. In other words, it’s the so-called marigolds who perpetuate toxicity in my school with their private lunches and secret face-book groups. Sorry, this just hit me the wrong way. When you are an introvert, you are often pegged as an outsider and nay-sayer.
Very interesting article, and more interesting comments! I really liked the Marigold section and think it would be helpful to some newbies that I know. But idea of the walnut trees was superfulous. I understand that you want to protect new teachers. There was no reason to include that section – for if you are looking for Marigolds you will more than likely not be around the Walnuts. I think there is a danger in labeling – its not kind, its not necessary, its divisive, and really not helpful. One of my biggest pet peeves in our world is this tendency to divide people into two groups, and ignoring the large gray middle that most people inhabit. You are doing the same thing here.
Ive taught for 30 years and was lucky to have Marigolds around me, and naturally migrated to them., and wow did it ever help me deal with all the things tossed my way. I have tried to be a Marigold to the new ones, and to the old ones as well when they are discouraged and frustrated, and am thankful there are some around me who do the same to me.
But I will admit to being a Walnut tree at times. Its not that Im afraid of change, its that every year they change something that is supposed to be the new solution to teaching, only to find that it just makes our job harder, or doesn’t help our kids learn. And I have worked in toxic environments with a toxic principal. And I have seen over the last decade how our culture degrades teachers and learning. So its easy (and perhaps protective) to have grown a thick bark around me, but that doesn’t mean the marigold inside has withered.
I also believe that its ok to complain, if its purpose is to make positive change. If we take an active role in our schools and community, we can make things work.
If its ok, I will be sharing the Marigold portion of your article, as that is positive, and rather self explanatory. I suspect it will help many of our newbies who have suddenly experienced a big decision just a few weeks ago, and have been rather blown away by it. The walnut tree in me will help them realize that I have survived these. The marigold part of me will help them work through it.
Love this! This will be my 33rd year as an educator — 27 years as an elementary school counselor and 5 at the college level. I’m thinking of adapting this to share with my freshmen as college success, too, depends a lot on finding one’s marigolds. Thanks for sharing.
I am a beginner teacher from New Zealand and this blog post has been circulating among us, the frazzled beginner teachers. I find it so uplifting!
And guess what I got from the team leader in my first school. A potted marigold for my classroom!
I’m on the right track.
Thank you for sharing this, Marta! Jenn will be so pleased to hear that you found the post inspiring as a new teacher.
This article is so beautiful and perfect. A good description of our profession.
How discouraging! Do people believe this rhetoric?? People are people and we can learn from everyone. To label someone a walnut is not helpful and discourages teamwork.
If I worked in a school with teachers who fit the above descriptions, I would run from it as fast as I could. How about looking for the positives in teachers, just as we would our students?
The author says that not everyone is all marigold or all walnut. But you are right about being able to learn from everyone! I have learned a lot of what not to do/how not to act from a great many walnuts!
Adults are responsible for their behavior. Holding adults responsible for behaving professionally is not the same as judging students. I’m shocked by all of the walnut trees in these comments; because who else would have a problem with an article pointing out that we should surround ourselves with positive and professional teachers?
Thank you for this post. I am about to start full time student teaching and in the short time I have spent at schools I have already seen plenty of marigolds and walnut trees. Much of the advice that my peers and I have received has been to stay out of teachers lounges and staff rooms as they can frequently become negative spaces. This has made me nervous about going into this profession because the narrative keeps resurfacing; to escape toxicity you must teach in isolation. This post reminded me that I have already met so many positive and immensely talented teachers who have been so ready to help me undertake this journey. This job is hard and I want to do my part in fostering healthy communities of educators. I know I will need these connections for teaching to be sustainable. I am already leaning so heavily on my peers, mentors, and instructors, using their advice and compassion to keep myself going. I will continue to seek out marigolds but I am also committed to doing what I can to become one.
You forgot Gossipy-Gabby and Braggy-Bridget.
Gossipy Gabby is two faced. She smiles to your face, then goes around the corner and tells everyone that she doesn’t like you, and you end up hearing about it from others. Or she makes up lies about you, and spreads rumors to make herself look better. You have a disagreement with her? Good luck. The entire school will hear about it, even if you thought you sorted it out with them, and you will be the villain.
Braggy-Bridget, sometimes also a Gossipy-Gabby (a hybrid species that you should avoid at all costs), always brags about who she knows, what she does, and how amazing her life is. She will take credit for other people’s hard work, and go around the school telling anyone who will listen how incredible she is. You will know these two people because any time they are in a crowd, they are surrounded by people whispering (because though people deny it, they love gossip). When you turn a corner, they will get quiet and then disperse.
Now, there are a few Marigolds as you said. They hear the gossip, and quickly tell the person that they don’t want to listen to it. They hear the brags, and then correct the person and let them know that they saw you after school working hard on the report instead. They are the beacons you search for. However, they tend to stick to themselves because they have found that when they come out of hiding, the others will do anything possible to discredit them or make them out to be less than they are.
I have been blessed enough to find two in my school. I hope others are as blessed because it can be incredibly soul-crushing to work in a school full of walnut trees.
Hi! Thank you so much for writing such a thoughtful, reassuring piece. I am a student teacher right now, and I am looking forward to starting my work as a full-fledged first year teacher in the fall. However, I have come into contact with more than a few jaded and deeply unhappy teachers where I work. It’s hard for me to sit idly by in the teacher’s lounge and listen to long conversations that range from everyday complaints to blatant racist or transphobic comments about students. I have heard teachers say that we coddle students too much or that we make everything easy for them and they still fail. The advice I’m seeking is this: How can I speak up? Would speaking up against these negative mindsets make any real difference? Walnut trees are poison, and I am lucky to have a tightknit garden of marigolds around me. But it hurts my soul to know that teachers can casually talk trash about their students and then walk into the classroom as if nothing’s happened. Hatred is harmful; it seeps into instruction and affects students, and that’s not fair.
Hey Sara, I’m happy to hear you have a garden of marigolds surrounding you. That’s such a critical piece of maintaining a healthy attitude, as a teacher and also a person. I absolutely believe that we need people to speak up about negative attitudes within a school’s culture, but we need to do so with care. You might consider involving your administrators for bigger issues you notice that are negatively affecting students. However, some of the most impactful moments come from our small interactions and conversations with colleagues. Be mindful of the influence you have on others and look for the small ways to affect positive change in the attitudes you’re seeing. For a good resource on communicating with difficult colleagues, check out this post by Angela Watson.
This article is fantastic for new teachers, and all teachers to remember that no matter how much academic information you learn in college, it’s the people you work with that make the difference. I think I have worked with all of the people depicted in this article. Some were even combinations of more than one of the personalities. I have made mistakes of attaching myself to some negative teachers, and not necessarily as a new teacher.
Learning who to go to for assistance is so important. A district can assign you a mentor, but to seek out the teachers who you can really identify with and work well with is a different type of skill.
At some buildings I have worked in, there would be whole tables of teachers that would heckle the administration under their breath at every staff meeting. Sometimes they would be people that I liked individually, but when put in a team of negative folks, they would change and have that effect on everyone around them.
I agree, Stacy. People and relationships are so important. We don’t teach in a vacuum void of others. How we choose to interact with our colleagues can have a huge impact on our own morale and on the students we serve. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for sharing!. Really motivating.
I live in the Marigold Capital of the World! Seriously! Pekin, Illinois is the boyhood home of Senator Everett Dirksen who actually lobbied to get the marigold to become the nation’s flower because of it’s hardiness. The rose won out instead but your article makes another reason why I appreciate marigolds!
I have always loved this article. It warms my heart more than I can express. My new mentee teacher on my team last year brought it to my attention and told me I was her Marigold. Such sweet words when you have a teacher fresh out of college. I hope to always aspire to that role for all my mentees. Thinking back to the time when I was just starting out, I must have had a marigold to inspire and guide me to where I am today.
As I become a more experienced teacher I find this to be very true. I think that by being someones marygold you also empower yourself and definitely beware of the walnuts.
Being semi retired, a teacher and continuing my journey as a lifetime learner, I make reference to and support the message from ‘Find your Marigold’.
The marigolds we choose to be near are our strong, positive and passionate, collaborative teaching colleagues. By connecting and interacting with them in the learning environment, we serve as role models for our garden of seedlings, our young learners.
This is interesting to read. It makes me worry that I’m a walnut, but maybe us walnuts support each other too? I’m a first year teacher and I find at my school, all the teachers are always saying how amazing the school is, and how amazing they are. It’s all “we’re so amazing! We can do anything! Yay! Let’s talk about how awesome we all are!” And well, I don’t find it so great for me. I don’t feel amazing. I have trouble with a lot of things. I find it hard. I wouldn’t mind a walnut to talk to sometimes.
Toxic positivity can be upsetting too. Humor is most important! Gravitate to people who get you and have a realistic outlook.
I think so too. Thank you!
Also, I actually got sick from working too much and resigned from my school not long after I wrote this. After that, while I was working my notice period, several other teachers told me they were struggling too and hoping to find another job before they quit. They didn’t want to say it to anyone, but once I had admitted I couldn’t cope, they felt comfortable telling me about it.
I believe reading this article and the comments help me to understand how to better deal with different people around me. I will be starting my student teaching in Spring, so I am pretty novice in this filed. My take away from this article and the comments is that I need to be aware of the fact that I might turn into a walnut tree at some point of my teaching, but there is always a marigold hidden inside me. The labels mentioned in the article are helping me to recognize how I might turn into one if I am not careful. I strongly believe in building a community of unity so we all can thrive and be successful. Thank you for the great information!
Thank you for this wonderful article, Jennifer! I’m in a teaching program right now, and this was such a helpful read to have under my belt as I go into the teaching profession!
I’m so glad this post was helpful for you, Brianna! I will be sure to pass on your comments to Jenn.
This same dynamic became worse at my school over 8 years until I had to quit or become an infected curmudgeon. My new school seems totally opposite (I’m in a field of Marigolds) and I couldn’t be more excited.
This article is very helpful. Thanks for the insight.
This is such an encouraging read! You have made astute observations of school culture. As an experienced teacher, I strive to be a marigold in our staff team. I sent this post to a few of my fellow marigolds on staff to encourage them too.
Hi Erin! Thank you for your kind comments and thank you for sharing this post with others!
Jennifer, this article has inspired me to write my speech on the topic of Marigolds. This speech is going to be presented at a statewide conference for high-school age students who are in a teaching program at their school. Last year, the speech I gave won first place overall and I’m super proud of that. I’m excited, as I’ve already started work on this year’s speech with inspiration from you, and its turning out really great so far. The discussion under the article was fantastic too. I just wanted to express my gratitude to you for this piece. It has aged wonderfully, and is helping people like me to this day. Thank you so much again Jennifer!
Sarah, Jenn will be so happy that the post resonated with you on this level! I’ll be sure to pass this message along to her. Best of luck delivering your speech!
I found the article very interesting and makes me more aware of the thing people encourage or spread. Reminds me of the saying if you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all.
I really like the comparison to us as a Marigold or Walnut. It makes me realize I need to think more about what I say around others and try to be a more positive influence.
Keep in mind that there are 100’s of plants that will thrive at the base of walnut trees. You never mention that part.
This reading makes an excellent comparison between the marygolds and teachers you feel are there to help you.
I read this article again today, I have read it before and loved it. As a 20+ year teacher, I am reminded of the need to be a marigold. I feel like to do make an effort to take on this role. However, sometimes it’s challenging, especially in the face of so many pandemic teaching challenges – a whole new round of which we are facing now in our community.
This job isn’t easy. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves and others of the valuable work we are doing and the positive impact we are having on students, even when we feel so much negative.
I am going to walk into the new year reminding myself to be a marigold!
Thanks for sharing, Heather. It’s definitely a challenging time for teachers everywhere. Sending strength and positivity to you in the New Year and beyond!
I hope you don’t mind if I do some thinking here about the way we talk about kids. It may be a little long (or a lot long — we’ll see).
Teachers talk about kids.
It didn’t take my 50 years in the business to garner that nugget. I’ve known it since my own schoolboy days when I overheard two nuns comparing me to my sister, or rather, preferring my sister to me. (It’s okay, they were right, she did work harder.)
When I first crossed to the other side of the desk and began to actually spend time with teachers I was immediately struck by the nature of what they said about the students. In fact, that became my way of deciding how much I could trust them as mentors/marigolds.
One of my earliest memories of this comes from the first week I was working in the junior high school and approached a friendly-type grizzled veteran shop teacher.
“I can’t seem to get them to focus on the topic. They notice each others’ shoes, the way they hold a pen, who burped, who doesn’t have a book, how my butt shakes when I write on the board…everything but what I want them to notice.”
He looked me in the eye, gave me a jolly wink and said, “Give it up. You can’t shine shit!”
It hit me like a punch in the stomach and has come to encapsulate my personal image of a burned-out case/walnut tree.
It can get awful at times. I’ve heard kids referred to as POSs, drek, shitballs, punks, pigs, scumbags, dirtbags, airheads, monsters, bastards, bitches, cocksuckers, numbnuts, wastes of space, and botched abortions. I’ve heard it and I’ve wanted to hit back at these people, knock them off their high horse, tear them down the way they tear down the kids, and get them out of teaching. But I discovered that even in this there was complication.
The same teacher whose mouth heaps this vileness on the kids in the teacher-room, turns out to be little Cindy Lou’s favorite teacher. Little Cindy Lou, who won’t say a word in my class and runs away when another student smiles at her, survives because this one teacher supports her generously with her time and attention. I would cast the teacher out, but she is C.L.s salvation. And that just points up what is wrong with saying and thinking and believing such horrible things about kids; like teachers, they are rarely as bad as they are painted.
(This, of course, is worrying at the corner of another issue—that in talking about education, people see things in terms of black or white, right or wrong, good or bad, whereas, everything I encounter in this business has more to do with shades of grey, matters of degree, fineness of judgment. I’ll have to chew on that bone some more one of these days.)
One thing I have learned over the years of listening is to distinguish among a number of the different forms that talking about students takes, and I’ve come up with some categories that seem to fit.
Now, venting is important; it is therapeutic and what is said during venting is virtually meaningless. It’s complaining for complaining’s sake. It’s just getting it all out.
“If I have to hear my name called one more time, you’ll find me in a high tower with an automatic doing some real damage!!!”
“‘Should we copy this? Should we copy this!’ what did they think I was filling the whole board for? I want to tell them, ‘Of course, you copy it you blankety blanks!’”
“Someone, anyone, help me with this. I’ve called God but His line is busy! How can you come to school day after damned day without a damned pencil or a damned notebook? How can you be surprised that such things might actually find a use in school? WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE KIDS!?!”
That’s venting. It feels good. After a good venting session you can walk back into a classroom with a smile on your face and ask Harold where his pen and notebook are without grinding your teeth.
Disparaging, on the other hand, although close to venting on the continuum is not a good thing. One of the things that makes it hard to distinguish from venting is the phrase “these kids.” A convenient phrase, it turns bad when used to separate the kids from their humanity and individuality. This is often done by following the words with a negative.
“These kids haven’t a civilized bone in their bodies.”
“These kids can’t read, they can’t write, it’s a wonder they can find their mouths to shove gunk into!”
“These kids shouldn’t be trusted any farther than you can throw them—if you can stand to touch them in the first place.”
This stuff gets nasty. It’s often steeped in unacknowledged racism, classism and/or sexism. It can be much milder, but it is always destructive; coloring the perceptions of the speaker and perhaps the listeners in a way that is hard to ignore.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon because the line between, “These kids are driving me crazy!” (venting) and “These kids aren’t fit to live in society.” (disparaging) can become micro-thin. So far as I can see, we cross the line when we talk about who they are rather than the effects their behaviors have.
I hate this kind of talk when I hear it coming from other teachers. And I’m close to despair when I catch it coming from me.
This kind of talk comes with a visible or implied head shake.
“How do I get them to understand?”
“What am I doing wrong?”
“Why are their marks…their attitudes…their tests…their writings…their homeworks…so poor?”
We search for answers, and we are talking about ourselves as much as about the kids. Confronted with a sense of failure, we are hoping that our questions will dislodge some answer that will lead to a breakthrough. We ask these questions aloud; nevertheless, we don’t expect others to take up the burden. These are our questions, and we need to find the answers.
Other teachers know things about the kids we teach. They may have had them before and learned how to get into their learning spaces. They may have been their coaches or advisors and have insights into parts of their personalities we don’t get to see.
“I know that Angel did that great project for you last year. I can’t seem to get anything out of him. What did you do?”
“Was Miranda always this quiet and withdrawn? Isn’t she the co-captain of the team? What am I missing?”
“Is something happening at home with Carlyn? She’s a million miles away and I can’t seem to reach her.”
The talk we do when trying to dig out those insights can be some of the most productive of all. Next to talking teaching how-tos, it’s the kind of professional talk I like best.
No, there aren’t any perfect people in this world, but sometimes some kids just seem to come pretty close. And when John and Jane come up with the perfect answer, an amazing project, a gorgeous interpretation, an insightful question…well, we just have to tell someone about it. Hopefully we will mention it to the kid. And it would sure be nice if we’d take a moment to call home, but the place it usually comes out is in the teachers’ room.
I love it when teachers get enthusiastic about their students, sharing those occasional joys that can lift an entire day.
I’m stopped by the music teacher, “You won’t believe what Barbara did with her song today. She caught every nuance. I can’t believe I get paid to have this much fun!”
I finish talking to a student in the hall and as she leaves I turn to find an Assistant Principal standing there watching her go. “That girl is pure class. She came to me to discuss a problem she is having with a teacher. Laid it out clearly, showed understanding of the teacher’s point of view, suggested a reasonable course of action, and thanked me for my time. I didn’t think they made them like that anymore.”
Teacher talk is valuable. It’s necessary.
Thank you for taking the time to share these insights!
My principal shared this with me during my first year of teaching in 2015. I think about this article and your message ALL THE TIME. I have truly used it to guide my relationships and thinking as a teacher.
Just wanted to say thank you for this wisdom in case I hadn’t before!
Thanks for sharing this, Jessica! Jenn will be so glad to know that this post continues to be helpful for you.
While I like your concept and idea has a good premise, what about the teachers who have multiple children of their own and have to also pay attention to them? What if you’re a single parent? What if most stuff falls on you because you’re the mom? I think being the teacher who helps at your school comes in waves because there is a good chance you are helping at the school your own children attend. What about the teachers who have no support from admin? I think the points are great, but it’s missing some things and how to handle them and this is why there is a burn out. I teach, but I also work 2 other part time jobs to keep my house/ pay for kids college, and I have 3 kids. Let’s face it, when you teach you might be pulled in 800 directions and you’re just trying to survive.
You make some very valid points. Teaching is one of the most difficult professions, especially now. You may have noticed that the Marigold post was written all the way back in 2013- seems like a lifetime ago! While it’s worth reflecting on the fact that teachers in 2022 are experiencing burnout at a faster rate than ever before, this might mean that Jenn’s advice to seek out folks in your building who can support and guide you is still incredibly relevant.
At the same time, if you’re looking for a post that addresses current struggles faced by teachers across the country, you might want to read Teachers Are Barely Hanging On for some more specific ideas about that. All the best to you as we wrap up the school year.
This article is wonderful and I will definitely share it with my coworkers as well.
I agree that first year teachers who are also new learners are afraid to ask for help and to voice their opinions because they may feel incompetent. I have been there and I tried to figure out things on my own.
Assigning a marigold( an experience teacher/mentor) who they can relate to and show support especially during very stressful times is important.
Having constant support, motivation and encouragement daily increases adaptability, confidence, trust and productivity quickly.
I am doing this with my students, they have to find their Marigold and decide who they are going to be a Marigold to this school year.
That’s great! Thanks for sharing and best of luck in your new school year!
Thank you, thank you, thank you…
It si all I needed to hear. I am a new teacher and after reading this, my thinking
is less insecure.
God bless you.
We are so glad to hear you found meaning in this post, Laura. All the best in your teaching career!
I love the Marigold article. I especially love Stay away from the walnut tree. Me and my marigold are always lifting each other up.
Hi Cheryl – we’re so glad this resonated with you!
I think My-Time Margaret sounds great – I would love to have more early career teachers having role models for setting boundaries like that!
This is scary accurate. But everyone has one a day where they are one of these characters. What matters is how you treat everyone.
My experience of being a paraprofessional have given me great hope, and has been a disappointment with working in a educational environment throughout my years of dealing with other people. My passion of education has been deep rooted within me since I was a young child. I have always imagined all the good behind being a mentor, and I have experienced working with all types of children. What I have learned in my current years was to have compassion, and not to dwell on negatively. The seed that I have planted was to stay positive and look at scenario’s in a different perspective. Things are said in done in it’s own way, but there is a deeper meaning and cause and effect to why it is happening. I learned to” not to judge a book by it’s cover”. What I learned from that is, everything that is seen and heard has a great meaning behind it, and it takes me as a person to find that answer. When things get the best of me in the moment, I remember that it is just temporary, and “life get’s greater later”. I try not to judge people and things for their action, but I try to draw a conclusion or find a reasoning behind it all.
You make a great point about the importance of having a positive attitude, Dorothy. We must not only find our marigolds but we must become marigolds for others. Thank you.
I remember several years ago being part of a workshop for MTSS and this article was used. I remember thinking how many people I have worked with who are “walnut trees” and who are “marigolds.” I have certainly been a “walnut” at times 🙁
I meant to add who my marigolds are! I have several people I work with who are great people to be around…always seem positive, encouraging, and enthusiastic!
If we’re being honest with ourselves, we have probably all had a few “walnut” moments. I’m glad you’ve been able to engage in that level of self-reflection, and so happy to hear that you are surrounded by marigolds!