Wonder why educators are disheartened? Look at fate of Cherokee and DeKalb teachers.

Would you encourage your child to become a teacher?

When the state Department of Education asked 53,000 Georgia teachers, two out of three replied they were “unlikely” or “very unlikely” to recommend teaching as a profession to high school students. Only 2.7 percent said it was very likely they would encourage their students to go into teaching.

Let me suggest two reasons why: James Dickson and Lyn Orletsky.

Dickson was a well-respected high school French teacher suspended from DeKalb School of Arts because he inadvertently showed a short clip from an Academy Award-nominated animated French film that a parent found racially offensive. Orletsky was an acclaimed Cherokee math teacher swept up in a political squall after she asked two boys to turn their “Make America Great” T-shirts inside out because other students were disquieted.

During an August school lockdown in which students had to remain in his classroom after the bell, Dickson took a student’s suggestion and showed a clip of “The Triplets of Belleville,” which included cartoon burlesques of American-born French performer Josephine Baker’s banana skirt skit and hoofer Fred Astaire being eaten by his tap shoes.

The teacher apologized, telling the parent in an email: “I had seen the movie years ago and know it is considered a ‘classic,’ but I had forgotten about this aspect of it. I did stop the video before it was finished and will definitely not show it again…I apologize for this lapse in diligence.”

Keeping in mind that Common Sense Media, which rates movies for family viewing, pronounced “The Triplets of Belleville” appropriate for children 12 and older, I assumed DeKalb Schools would not upend a class over this. I was wrong.

“Mr. James Dickson, French teacher, has been reassigned to Rockbridge Elementary School,” said spokesman Andre Riley this week in response to my request for an update.

Now, Dickson’s former students have a long-term substitute while the district advertises: “DeKalb School of the Arts is seeking a French Teacher who utilizes best practices to increase student achievement.”

Good luck with that. According to a report this year by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, more states report a teacher shortage in languages than in any other subject.

Then, we go north for the next teacher overboard story. Lyn Orletsky was that rarest of educators, a National Board Certified teacher, which is a distinction held by less than 3 percent of teachers nationwide. In Florida, she was a finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. She was an effective teacher, especially for high-achieving math students.

But Ortletsky made a mistake: When students in her River Ridge pre-calculus class challenged two boys wearing Trump “Make America Great Again” T-shirts, the teacher attempted to deflect the disruption by asking the boys to turn their shirts inside out. When they asked why, she said the slogan had been co-opted by white supremacists as a result of Charlottesville. The exchange, captured on cellphone video and released to a conservative website, led to email threats on her life and a GOP candidate for Georgia governor picketing her school.

Orletsky had no history of bringing politics into her math classroom. She was suspended and a note went to parents stating: “Ms. Orletsky no longer is your child’s math teacher, effective immediately. We have assigned a substitute teacher and are searching for a knowledgeable and experienced educator to teach these classes for the rest of the school year.”

(Finding a math teacher who can teach AP is not easy. According to the U.S. Department of Education, there is a national shortage of math teachers.)

Last week, Orletsky resigned, saying, “After attacks on my character and threats on my life, I have made the decision to resign from my teaching position at River Ridge High School. While in hindsight I would have handled the situation differently, the outcry over this incident has been disproportionate to the event itself.”

Those applauding her resignation aren’t the parents of serious math students who suffered a gap in instruction that could undermine their performance on the AP exam. Research shows teaching disruptions hurt student achievement. A Duke study found that being taught by a substitute teacher for 10 days per year had a larger effect on children’s math scores than if they changed schools.

In both of these cases, teachers were sacrificed to political agendas and pressures. And so was student achievement, which is supposed to be the top priority of districts.

Reader Comments 0

119 comments
BlackmonEl
BlackmonEl

These seem like very good teachers and students, so the answer must be placed on who is running this circus...the government. I don't know if any of the objecting parents are taxpayers, but you have to pay into a system to value it. And the good teachers are indeed leaving because of all of this distraction, leaving inept pretenders to run the show. There is a large percentage that only cares that the NEA will fight for their raises and protection from being fired.  And of course I paid for public school even though I knew I would never use that sad tuition.

JaninAtlanta
JaninAtlanta

This is a good column, except that it only includes teachers who made faux pas that fired up the political right. For it to have been a superlative column, Ms. Downey would have had to include those who were fired or resigned to mollify the left, such as the award-winning young teacher who used a non-traditional teaching method to teach slavery and was pilloried for playing racist "games" after a child gave her description to her grandmother, and the grandmother's version went viral. Members of the school staff supported that teacher but Ms. Downey sided with the conclusion of the out-of-state expert who deemed the teacher to have ventured into racist territory. There was another similar case in which one little white child told a black child to be the slave.


When an issue that we as a society don't know how to talk about (or aren't allowed to talk about) comes up, everyone freaks out. It seemed to me that those two cases resulted in teachable moments that ended too soon or were interrupted by hysteria.

Back to Monday's column: to be credible one needs to judge those on one's own end of the political spectrum the same as those on the other end.

zzyzx
zzyzx

I would NEVER encourage anyone to get into the teaching profession anymore. In fact i discourage it all of the time. Its not worth the stress, effort and pay compared to other careers. We re treated like we know nothing, our benefits suck...

ChessMaster
ChessMaster

We have discussed this often in our house. My mother and wife are former teachers. Neither encouraged their children to teach due to the lack of support from the administration and community. Even so, I wanted to teach (Mathematics) until I saw the low pay and other issues. My daughter also just changed her career path from education to law. 

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Welcome to America, Land of the Offended.  It's not just the schools.  Corporate America is just as quick to torpedo someone's career for an inopportune slip of the tongue or for not kowtowing to the party line.

Unless, of course, you're one of the protected minority classes whom you cannot terminate short of murder.

Diversity is our strength, blah, blah, blah where we appreciate everyone's input, blah, blah, blah.  What's that?  You want to hire someone based on QUALIFICATIONS?  Off with your head!


redweather
redweather

The AJC website has got to be one of the worst. It is so cluttered with stuff like the new "Politically Georgia" ads that I often give up waiting for everything to load. To quote my least favorite President, "Sad."

Ychromosome
Ychromosome

Their software is horrible. If I’m logged in on ajc.com as a subscriber, why do I need to re-log in on myajc.com? Why do you need to log in again just to comment? So many bugs...

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

Making school uniform mandatory would reduce any of the issues regarding dress in schools. It would be less distracting for all involved and wouldn't give room to those who wish to make any political statements, from the left and right, in the classroom.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@Papagrande @sneakpeakintoeducation

yes, and when I went to school there were always ways to differentiate yourself and stand out in a crowd. However, school uniform, for the most part, takes away the "look at me" aspect of wearing something that is distracting to teaching/learning. It's an easy fix. 

mandingo 856
mandingo 856

Taught in north fulton and some students sounded as if they were sponsored by Fox and WSB radio.  sad

edugator2
edugator2

Thanks for an excellent column.  Every teacher worries about having that one moment as these two excellent teachers did.  A momentary lack of judgement, a few ill-chosen words, and decades of quality instruction is ignored in a quest for vengeance.


And this doesn't even get into the burdensome paperwork, micromanagement, and other issues that drive teachers out. 


I like teaching, and would recommend it to others.  But it's not what it was 30 years ago. 

Sportsnewstoday
Sportsnewstoday

This could have been a great teaching moment on the constitution. Freedom of speech!

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Regarding the tshirt situation:  What we don't know is if these boys were acting like they were trying to start something.  Do they have a history of posturing for their classmates (thus disrupting the class)?  You ask why does that matter?  It matters if this was an attempt to disrupt.  Teachers have to have control over their classes in order to teach.

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady


Obviously not.These are good students or they wouldn't be in the class to begin with.Also,the principal and school system would not have apologized to them if they were provoking trouble.


She's not the victim here-they are.Time to move on from this.

Ficklefan
Ficklefan

@edugator2 @Astropig @Wascatlady They were victimized by having their Second Amendment Right to freedom of speech impaired by their teacher. A good lesson here for everyone. Snowflakes are everywhere looking for something, anything that they can point to as being offensive. Notice how the only things that are "offensive" are Republicans and Conservatives exercising their Constitutional rights. If those boys had been wearing t-shirts with a slogan that is offensive on its face - Black Lives Matter ("excluding" all other lives) - for example - do you think for one moment that this teacher would have asked them to turn their shirts inside out?  No way, no how. But that is fine, because that is what freedom of speech is all about. Republicans and Conservatives, stand up to the Snowflakes, and do not back down! Freedom of speech comes with the price of being made to feel uncomfortable or to think about issues that are difficult and unsettling. It is good to see that more and more people are standing up to this Snowflake nonsense. 

Jennifer
Jennifer

Second Amendment right to free speech? Please read your copy of the Constitution again.

Ychromosome
Ychromosome

Students have limited rights, especially when it comes to the 2nd amendment, lol.

Teachertim
Teachertim

Teaching has gotten so hard for so many reasons, from so many sources. Why do teachers teach? Because we know we make a difference in children's lives but at some point, teachers can only do so much. I became so disheartened that so many teachers are so frustrated, angry, disheartened, and wanting to quit, I wrote the book to tell our story to parents, politicians, business community, and the education leaders to explain, "this is what is happening in schools." available at www.teachertimmullen.com  BUT we cannot give up on public education - there needs to be an honest and open dialogue - our country and grandchildren depend on us.  I hope some teachers can use the book to help them explain what they also see but more importantly, politicians and education leaders to see why we are not recommending teaching as a profession unless major perception, institution, and leadership changes occur and are sustainable. So many "fixes" have been patch work and are not sustainable - for so many reasons.  check out the book at www.teachertimmullen.com - get one for your education leaders, politicians, or friends that wonder why you are so exhausted and want to quit. I want to help teachers explain what is going on - a tool that might help start a conversation to save the profession

mensa_dropout
mensa_dropout

Meanwhile in North Fulton, teachers and paras are allowed to hold children down to cafeteria tables and nothing happens. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Neither of these events should qualify as suspension or termination or other grounds for reassignment.  For goodness sake, people, we have teachers who rabidly expound on highly "conservative" points of view routinely.  Why isn't something done about that? BECAUSE OUR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS NEED TO BE EXPOSED TO DIFFERING POINTS OF VIEW!


Parents, superintendents, board members, please go back to school.  Or, at least, to college, where you will find your point of view is not held by everyone!  Good grief!

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady


Yours is good advice. We need to be tolerant of all points of view,even when we disagree with them

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

In Math class? And, it was the teacher who inappropriately asserted her twisted political interpretation was the meaning of the Make America Great Again slogan. Not just me with that assessment, other students, the school administration that suspended her, and other local parents and taxpayers. Context and facts are important considerations.

Wrecker
Wrecker

@Wascatlady Rabid conservatives?  Yeah, that does not happen in Atlanta area schools.  Teachers in this area are to the left of the media, which is a very small area.

Papagrande
Papagrande

@Astropig @Wascatlady No we don't. Sometimes people say really stupid things (like you and wascatlady) and should be appropriately redressed.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

Sounds to me that maybe the parents, esp those who have threatened the math teacher, need to grow up! The world is full of things you will agree with. Better get used to it. Seems the parents are incapable of discussing things with their children.


Intimidation and death threats have no place in schools, let alone the country. And this is how they are going to make America great again? Give me a break!

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@RoadScholar

I'm pretty sure it wasn't parents making death threats.  This incident got posted on social media and made the rounds nationwide.

I should say "alleged" death threats because I haven't heard of anyone getting arrested for them.

Astropig
Astropig

Ms. Orletsky could have done something intelligent that day-The exact same thing that those students other teachers did,namely leave them alone and teach her class,do what she was paid to do and leave her politics at home.Their other teachers still have jobs,careers and reputations intact.


And a couple of other things about that episode-I never saw any of her fellow RRHS teachers stick up for her-a major red flag for me.Typically,they'll be quoted at length about what a great teacher and person she is.I didn't see that anywhere.


Also,it looks like she has been doing this sort of thing before:


https://www.ratemyteachers.com/lyn-orletsky/6923525-t


Some brave kids videoed that and shined the light of day on this unacceptable behavior.They are the real heroes here,along with the parents that took swift action.I'm sure that if that video had been sent to the AJC,we'd never hear of it,so I don't care if its Infowars or Mother Jones that published it.


Finally-She's pretty glib when talking to the far left wing press.How hard could it have been to just cowboy up and apologize? Hard to feel sorry for someone that won't show contrition for something that was clearly wrong and hurtful.


Good riddance.







redweather
redweather

@Astropig I followed the link to RateMyTeachers and saw that there is only one rating of Orletsky and it was posted after this incident at River Ridge. The poster claims that Orletsky has "always been a terrible teacher and hateful to students she doesn't like."

Not exactly solid corroboration.

BRV
BRV

Hit a nerve. Got the whatever. Enjoy your sulk.

Astropig
Astropig

@redweather @Astropig


Oh,I agree about the corroboration.These are anonymous postings.But,these words were written,and they must be weighed in the greater narrative.The death threats were anonymous also,and we have to just take the word of the teacher and the author about those,so I say put it all out there and let the reader decide.


This case was a bully getting a taste of what it is like when they themselves are rendered powerless.Maybe the next petty tyrant contemplating a stunt like this will think twice before acting.


Look, the left created this hysterical atmosphere that mandates an over the top response to perceived wrongs,unintentional slights and slips of the tongue.They're going to have to live with the monster that they have created here.These teachers are more accurately victims of their friends than their enemies.I think that we can fully expect a hypocritical "get even" campaign from the media on these matters in the near future,so just wait,your turn to assume my position on this sort of thing is nigh.Be patient.

BRV
BRV

What a long-winded steaming pile of poo. Your team “won” and you just can’t control your urge to write apologia to mob rule. The fact that you sincerely think that one group is solely responsible for social incivility is proof positive that you are not the sharpest tool in the shed. Love the teacher blaming too. Some woman must be beating you up and taking your lunch money on the regular.

And a “get even” campaign ... what? To paraphrase Dean Wormer, “Son, paranoid and stupid is no way to go through life.”

Astropig
Astropig

@BRV


Must have hit a nerve...When you're reduced to name calling,you're out of ammo.


Surrender noted.

BRV
BRV

Just pointing out the obvious. You’re defending mob rule. Don’t want to be called dumb, don’t write dumb comments

1Robert
1Robert

@BRV Mob rule are those on the left that do not allow others to have an opinion.  The teacher decided that she did not like a slogan and made a choice she has to live with.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Astropig @redweather You don't have to take my word. The threat that I shared on the blog was tracked by police to Oregon -- that is how we know where it came from.

mountainbee
mountainbee

What a shame to lose those two superior teachers.  Obviously the teachers are not in charge of their classrooms, silly oppositional outsiders are.

Laurie Frost
Laurie Frost

Discouraging. No wonder students struggle.

Laurie Frost
Laurie Frost

Harriet Langford the article was very enlightening. I didn't realize how bad it is getting on college campuses. Glad I went to school when I did! I'd probably have been expelled.

redweather
redweather

Having spent the last twenty years in the college classroom, in my experience it really isn't as bad as advertised. Most students I've discussed this with find things like "trigger warnings" unnecessary.

As one student so eloquently put it, "I thought coming to terms with things that make you uncomfortable is what growing up is all about."

redweather
redweather

From the article:  "Social media makes it extraordinarily easy to join crusades, express solidarity and outrage, and shun traitors."

There you have the problem in a nutshell.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@redweather It is actually the way growth happens.  Not overwhelming challenges, like having to walk between gangs firing at each other to get to class, you understand.