Watering the Flowers, Professionally Speaking
I have always thought I had a black thumb. I’m the kind of person who kills a cactus. I’ve never found gardening relaxing or enjoyable, so I tend to avoid it at all costs.
Last spring, I started leading a nature-based activity group for young children. In the first class, I handed out zinnia seeds with instructions for a home study project. Since I was the teacher, I figured I should try to plant the seeds myself.
My older daughter was so excited to help. We first tried planting them in an egg carton, but the container turned over when I accidentally left it outside on a windy day.
For attempt number 2, we used glass yogurt jars. We started with five jars, each of which contained two or three seeds and potting soil. I followed the directions carefully, misting each jar with water once a day.
To my shock, tiny shoots poked out a few weeks later. My daughter and I checked the plants each day, misting them carefully and delighting as they grew more and more.
Towards the end of her school year, she brought home a tiny marigold plant in a plastic cup. I groaned inwardly, overwhelmed by the thought of keeping yet another green thing alive. By then, two of my zinnia plants were still thriving. They were sprouting leaves and growing beyond the confines of the yogurt jars.
In June, my sister helped me replant the little seedlings into a window box. For the sake of color or symmetry, we put the marigolds in the middle, surrounded by the two zinnias.
Within a few more weeks, we had our first buds, which eventually opened into the most beautiful flowers. The marigolds are doing just fine, but the zinnias really blossomed.
I’m still in shock. Also shocking was landing a teaching job mere weeks before school began. There will be a few new teachers at my new school this fall.
The director of studies sent us an email entitled “Find Your Marigold: The One Essential Rule for New Teachers.”
As a newly minted marigold expert, I was intrigued. The article was directed to brand new teachers, but after four years off, I feel like I’m completely new to the field.
The article’s main point was that new teachers should surround themselves 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.”
Here’s how marigolds come into play.
The flower is one of the best companion plants, meaning that gardeners plant them near other flowers or vegetables to ensure better growth. Marigolds protect “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.”
Not only does the marigold metaphor explain why my zinnias look so gorgeous, it also encourages new teachers to find an experienced, nurturing and supportive co-worker to adopt as a mentor.
Some schools will assign a new teacher to a mentor for the year, someone to help guide them in their new career. Other times, they might have a co-teacher to work with. Sometimes, it might be the person who offers help navigating the school in the faculty lounge.
“Few teachers will be lucky enough to be planted close to a marigold… 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.”
The article got me to thinking about the marigolds I’ve surrounded myself with professionally.
At my first job as a brand new teacher, I latched onto the eighth grade English teacher. He had around 30 years of experience and we were teaching the same grade so I thought he’d be a good, unofficial mentor. He was very relaxed and often flew by the seat of his pants rather than crafting carefully planned lessons. Surprisingly, this complimented my highly organized, structured style.
Over seven years, we co-taught, graded essays together and synced our content as best as we could. I could not have picked a better marigold to help me flourish as a first year teacher.
For my second year of teaching, there was a new 7th grade history teacher. We grew close over our years together. We had similar styles of teaching and since my curriculum followed his, we worked on grant projects together to enhance our classrooms. We worked hard on standardizing certain expectations, particularly around writing and discussion. It was a joy to work with him.
It was with great sadness that I moved from New York to Pennsylvania in 2013 because I missed all of my colleagues who I was friends with personally, but who also helped me grow professionally.
I was welcomed to my second school with open arms. I was responsible for teaching one section of ninth graders, along with other teachers, each of whom had a section. They took me in hand from day one and helped reassure me on content that was new to me. They walked me through teaching high schoolers for the first time and made themselves available to me throughout the year. As I grew more comfortable in the new job, I did not rely on them as heavily and felt more comfortable bringing my own ideas to the table, which were encouraged by my co-workers and administration.
I realize that I have been very lucky in terms of the marigolds that I have found during my career. The people I was surrounded by nourished and supported me every step of the way, allowing me to grow and thrive.
As I prepare to start working in a new school, I wonder who my marigolds will be. By the end of this school year, I hope that I will have grown as strong as my beautiful zinnias, stretching tall towards the sun, encouraged to grow by the little marigold plant.