Mindset

Beware of the Walnut Tree Teachers

Jessie Gebauer & Joel Carlovsky

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Watch out for the teachers that are toxic walnut trees! Every school has them and they will suck your energy and love for teaching dry if you’re not careful. Instead, look for the marigold teachers

Walnut teachers and marigold teachers are drastically different. Once you know how to spot them both, you’ll be able to avoid those walnut trees. More importantly, you want to get in with the marigold teachers! Then you can learn from all their greatness and become one of the best teachers yourself!

HOW TO SPOT A WALNUT TEACHER

Walnut teachers are chronic complainers. These types of teachers will have something negative to say about almost everything, and will rarely follow up on their complaints with action to remedy the situation. Walnut teachers tend to congregate in pods to complain about how terrible everything is. You’ll be able to spot this as soon as you see it. 

For the record, I complain from time to time myself. It’s okay to feel frustrated or angry! Education is an incredibly tough field to have a career in. Teachers do the near-impossible every single day. Every teacher knows this! However, constant complaining about all the shortcomings of our system does nothing to make it better. 

Surrounding yourself with walnut teachers is exhausting. I’ve been there! You spend a lot of your day in a heightened emotional state. This is taxing on your overall well-being. With a constant focus on everything wrong with education, it becomes increasingly difficult to see the great things that are being accomplished. When I was surrounded by walnut teachers I eventually resented my teaching job altogether. There’s a lot at stake if you’re not careful!

DIFFERENT WAYS TO STEER CLEAR

Avoiding walnut teachers can be a little tricky at first- especially if you’ve already surrounded yourself with a few. Start to create a little distance with those teachers. When a group is gathered in someone’s classroom b*tching about something, say hello and keep on walking! The staff lounge (depending on your school) can be a little toxic. If the walnut teachers tend to eat lunch there, find a nice spot outside or eat in your classroom. I personally like eating alone, so I can enjoy a podcast while I eat. 

We’re all adults, and this is your workplace. Do what you need to do to protect your energy. What others think about you is none of your business anyway. This is something I remind myself of often. As a people pleaser in my earlier years, I often worry about others thinking negatively of me. However, I’ve learned that getting what I need is much more important than making sure everyone likes me. 

STAY CLOSE TO THE MARIGOLD TEACHERS

Marigold teachers are the ones you’ll want to seek out like unicorns! These teachers are passionate about education and masterful at their job. They’re also living their lives fully outside of their teaching jobs. If you need support with something, they’re eager to jump in. Marigold teachers have “figured it out” and if you get close to them, they’ll help you do the same!

A word of caution. There are many different types of great teachers. You want to search for teachers that work and live in a way that aligns with your own values. Many teachers enjoy spending their time at home preparing for school. I do not. Not letting my teaching job take over my personal life is very important to me. When I’m seeking out my marigolds I’m always thinking about that.

Once you find your Marigolds you’ll want to copy everything they do! Copy their habits, systems, and especially their boundaries. We did a podcast episode on this very thing. Check it out! Copy at first, and then when you get in a good groove, make it your own! I’ve learned all my best tips and tricks from copying other great teachers. No need to reinvent the wheel!

BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER

Every school I’ve worked in is full of walnut teachers and marigold teachers. Now that you know the difference, start searching! Start to notice your own tendencies as well. Are you becoming chronically negative? As humans, we all shift and grow. I’ve had my own seasons where I was being a walnut teacher. It’s possible to evolve! It all begins with a little awareness and intentionality. 

The original inspiration for this post and the Marigold Force organization came from a blog post by Jennifer Gonzalez at The Cult of Pedagogy. Click here to read her article!


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  1. You need to read Jennifer Gonzalez’s post as well! Her article about Marigold teachers may have been one of the single most impactful pieces of advice I’ve received as an educator! Here’s the article!

    https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/marigolds/

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We are so much more than “just teachers.” Joel is a personal development mastermind, self-care guru, push up machine, skilled ballet dancer, and Kombucha connoisseur. I’m a systems-minded queen, Excel nerd, aspiring handstand professional, travel enthusiast, and a cat mama. 

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