March 16th, 2010
02:35 PM ET

Teacher suspended for writing "loser" on girl's papers


Gabriel Falcon
AC360° Writer

A North Carolina public school teacher has been suspended for writing the word “loser” on a 6th grade student’s notebook. “He thought it was funny, the kids thought it was funny…our school district doesn’t think it’s funny,” said Jan Blunt, Communications Director for Buncombe County Schools.

Rex Roland, who is a social studies teacher at Enka Middle School, was suspended without pay for two weeks, Blunt said. Roland, who has been a faculty member for 12 years, was being playful with the student when he wrote “loser” on the girl’s papers, Blunt told CNN. “She laughed. She knew it was joke,” Blunt said of the child, “but her parent called the superintendent to complain.” CNN was unable to reach the student’s parent for comment.

Blunt said the principal was informed of the matter and last week removed the student from Roland’s classroom. Blunt also believed the incident has been blown out of proportion.

"This is a teacher who is kind of a jokester at the school,” Blunt said, “and his way of relating to his 6th and 7th grade students is to joke with them in their own context, and kids this day call themselves all sorts of things, including loser. That’s been his methodology for some time but it’s not appropriate in the school district.”

“He just jokes around, all of the students have come forward to talk about him in a favorable way to say he’s just being funny. He was just kidding.” She added that Roland has reportedly been receiving death threats.

Buncombe County Schools District issued the following statement in response to the controversy:

"Regardless of the intention or context, demeaning or derogatory comments made to students by school staff is unacceptable and will not be rationalized or justified by Buncombe County Schools. Following a thorough and comprehensive investigation, Buncombe County Schools Superintendent Tony Baldwin has announced that Enka Middle School social studies teacher Rex Roland will be suspended for two weeks without pay, with a required component for training in professional and ethical classroom behavior before he returns to the school. Mr. Roland has been an employee with the school system since August of 1997."

A letter from Roland and Enka Middle School Principal Dr. Pam Fourtenbary was sent today to students, parents, faculty and staff.

“The past few days have been stressful for all of us at Enka Middle School, but it is time to
heal, unite and become an even stronger school community than before. Thank you for your support and contribution to this process,” the letter said.

“To help in the healing, Mr. Roland would like to extend a full apology to any and all students
or staff he may have offended due to his unprofessional behavior. He regrets the negative
impact that his behavior has had on our school’s integrity and reputation, and would like you
to know that he will be attending training to improve his professional and ethical classroom
behavior. Mr. Roland looks forward to returning to his students at the end of that training
and a 10-day suspension.

It is very important for everyone to know that Enka Middle School is a safe place for
students and staff alike, and that Buncombe County Schools does not tolerate demeaning
or disparaging behavior of any kind, by anyone, toward anyone. If at any time a student,
parent or staff member has a concern over this or any other issue, it is important that you
feel comfortable bringing that concern to my attention. Please be assured that your
concerns will be addressed properly and in a timely manner.”

For more crime coverage go to cnn.com/crime.

Filed under: Crime & Punishment • Education
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. profart

    As a college-level lecturer, I also try to joke with students. It is a dangerous game. You get all sorts of things said about you, you never know how other students are taking a comment, even as they laugh along with their classmates. One thing you should know to never, never do is to put into writing something that could be so obviously taken the wrong way by someone who was not there. It just takes one sour apple to lose your job.

    March 17, 2010 at 8:16 am |
  2. Trylon

    Mr. Roland needs Peer Review by colleagues who teach in the same school. I would trust their assessment more than the educational hierarchy and the parents. If they would judge him as "way out of line" then that is the criticism that counts.

    March 17, 2010 at 8:15 am |
  3. Ken

    Although the teacher may have been joking, it was inappropriate and may leave lasting scars on that student for the rest of their life.
    I can relate, when I was in the 7th grade my english teacher called me an ignoramus in front of the class. It hurt my feeling at the time and I was too embarrassed to even mention it to my parents. I'm now 49 years old and I cannot forget that incident or how it made me feel. I hope that this doesn't have the same lasting painful effect on this young girl.

    March 17, 2010 at 8:06 am |
  4. Mike

    I am a high school teacher, I am sometimes sarcastic, I joke around, and usually not politically correct. If someone does poorly in my class I tell them straight up that they are not doing well, but I will never belittle them. The teacher was wrong by writing loser on the paper, joke or not.

    March 17, 2010 at 8:01 am |
  5. Jay in Korea

    Well, I am a teacher. I have often said things I thought were silly... but I don't really think that he meant it as a joke. Even so, how is a derogatory student in front of one's peers ever funny? He is a moron for writing it. It's bad enough to say it. For those of you think it's just PC, let's see how you like being belittled in front of your colleagues. Too many kids are committing suicide these days. What if they found her hanging dead in her closet instead? For the record, I have made mistakes in judgement myself, it still doesn't make it right.

    March 17, 2010 at 7:56 am |
  6. Jason B.

    Joke or not, it just wasn't appropriate classroom behavior...especially for a teacher!

    March 17, 2010 at 7:54 am |
  7. randy

    Earlier articles on this matter indicated that the intention was in fact to belittle the student. Of course it's a "joke" now that he was reported by the parents. There is no room for this in the classroom. His job is to teach these kids not call them names. For those of you that think its funny I feel sorry for your kids.

    March 17, 2010 at 7:52 am |
  8. NZillms

    They've left something out.

    Mr. Roland had been asked before by the student's parent to stop writing "loser" on her daughter's papers. Roland stopped for a while and then started back up again. This is why he was suspended. Knowing that, the benign jokester story doesn't work quite as well.

    March 16, 2010 at 10:27 pm |
  9. Mike

    I am a middle-school teacher who uses sarcasm in the classroom...I couldn't live without it. However, I do know which kids I can joke around with and which ones I can't. One time, when playing a team game, one team got a "lose-a-turn" card and I put my fingers on my forehead in the "loser" sign. The class laughed, I laughed, but I did it to the whole group, I didn'd single out one kid. Yet, I still got a call on it. Go figure...

    March 16, 2010 at 10:26 pm |
  10. Marisa

    The child is going to suffer more by her parents taking down a beloved teacher than the teacher writing loser on her paper. Unfortunately there are no winners in this situation and everyone suffers. Parents in general need to loosen up and in this case should have spoken with the teacher and not taken things this far. Their child will now have to deal with their choice of action.

    March 16, 2010 at 10:25 pm |
  11. Susan

    For those who think this teacher's behavior is OK, I wonder how you treat your kids.

    March 16, 2010 at 10:20 pm |
  12. Steve

    It's not even worth the hassle being a teacher. He should quit and go do something that pays better.

    March 16, 2010 at 10:20 pm |
  13. realist

    You have got to be kidding. If teachers cant joke without some people crying about it, what is the world coming to? What morons!

    March 16, 2010 at 10:05 pm |
  14. Mary

    This teacher had been told to stop before and he made the decision to continue. If this had been my daughter I would have insisted he be fired not suspended and than I would have contacted a lawyer. One time and an apology would have been fine but this was continued even after the family complained to the principle and were told it would stop.

    March 16, 2010 at 10:05 pm |
  15. Clay

    Oh so PC!!!

    March 16, 2010 at 9:59 pm |
  16. Brenda

    I love that teacher!!!

    March 16, 2010 at 9:58 pm |
  17. blursd

    This reminds me of my 5th Grade teacher who wrote on my permanent record for the grade, "This child will never amount to anything." I remember being upset when I read it ... my mother, however, was livid. 20 some years later I have a Ph.D and can speak 6 languages, so who got the last laugh ...

    I don't care what rationale one uses for such action by a teacher ... it is never excusable to belittle a student.

    March 16, 2010 at 9:55 pm |
  18. Mike, formerly from Syracuse

    The PC police strike again.

    March 16, 2010 at 8:16 pm |
  19. liz

    From what I've seen in the interview with the mom, this girl did not think it was funny. It hurt her feelings and upset her parents. I would have done the same thing in pushing for some type of reprimand of this unprofessional teacher. The girl may have laughed like it was a joke to save face in class, but it was not funny. (My own son was embarrassed by a math teacher last year who told him "she didnt teach 2nd grade math" & he should "find another teacher" when he asked for extra help). He is in high school. She embarrassed him in front of his peers. Some teachers abuse their positions and think they are untouchable because of their powerful union. Shame on your Mr. Roland. You should know better.

    March 16, 2010 at 8:01 pm |
  20. Mari

    Sorry, but "joking around" when you are a teacher, a person who has power, who is suppose to be respected?

    Have we lost all sense of civility and common sense in our country?

    March 16, 2010 at 7:59 pm |
  21. Loam

    There's nothing harmless about a person with the power and authority of a teacher playing around with students like this. I grew up around a youth counselor who also connected with kids like this, using their language, sharing with their jokes. he would make fun of his "old fogey" colleagues and thus undermine their authority. All the kids loved him until he was revealed as a serial pedophile who had preyed on his own children in addition to others.

    I expect my students to have teachers who uphold professional standards and behave like adults. If that makes such teachers uncool, so be it. This guy needs playmates of his own age.

    March 16, 2010 at 6:57 pm |
  22. John

    I think the teacher was just joking around with the kids and that the school shouldn't have suspended the teacher for writing the word loser.

    March 16, 2010 at 6:57 pm |
  23. Susan

    This teacher should be charged with abuse under the color of authority, because this is exactly what it is. Teachers are in a position of authority and are supposed to be role models for their students. Children who are told that they are a failure by teachers, even though proving their success with exceptional grades, will never be able to forget even one act of this kind of cruelty. It's an emotional assault of the worst kind. Ridicule of children is not a joking matter. Anyone who thinks otherwise should be ashamed of themselves.

    March 16, 2010 at 6:55 pm |
  24. LBW

    Sure the kids all like him, he is as immature as they are.

    March 16, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
  25. Susan Stokeley

    If you can't stand the thought of reading about it in the morning newspaper...............don't do or say it. This so-called "beloved teacher" who is "just" a "jokester" is the real loser.

    March 16, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  26. jj

    no wonder the world is in shambles, small harmless jokes turn into this crap...seriously?!?

    March 16, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  27. steve-o

    One suspects the only people offended by this are old fogies who don't understand the twist a younger generation has put on the word loser. That's we he was suspended. The old farts don't get it.

    March 16, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
  28. Morgan

    I saw a videotaped interview with the girls mother, and this is not a one-time occurance where the teacher wrote 'loser' on the girl's paper. It is just the first time the principal did anything about it. This article is definately painting the whole incident in a very different light than the video that I saw. Regardless, I don't see how a teacher can "jokingly" call a student a "loser" and think it is in any way appropriate.

    March 16, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
  29. Ace

    When we find Teachers that can finally connect with the kids and maybe teach them, we find a way to beat it out of them.. Good work.. I hope those parents are very proud..

    March 16, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
  30. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Whatever happened to "Parent Teachers Conference" or is it that the parents never attended one on behalf of their child. Makes me wonder.

    March 16, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
  31. Carol B.

    The teacher should have taken the high road and the old adage that "When in doubt , do without." He made an error in judgment. Many children, until high school , don't get sarcasm/snarkiness and take it to heart. Some teachers are stuck in a state of arrested development. Don't blame the parents for complaining! Children may laugh at a joke made at their or their parent's expense and really be hurting emotionally. All children want to feel that they belong at home and at school! He's an insensitive, immature, clod and may deserve to get fired. Would Mr. "Cool" do it to his own child?

    March 16, 2010 at 5:50 pm |
  32. David N

    This is stupid. The teacher should not have to be suspended for having a bit of harmless fun. Rex, you are in our thoughts and prayers. And get a job at a different school district cause this one sucks!

    March 16, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
  33. Lesley Anne

    When I was in middle school, my teacher belittled me in front of the class, saying "you have the brain of an ant." I was horrified. Everyone in the class laughed. I told my parents and they called the principal. As far as I know, nothing came of it. I'm happy to see that things have changed and teachers who speak, or in this case write, in a questionable manner are at least called out on it.

    March 16, 2010 at 5:43 pm |
  34. Maggie Becker

    Some people just can't take a joke. I think the parents are losers for not allowing thier daughter who understood it was a joke, explain it to them beofre they got mad and called. I hate to tell you but not all kids are winners. So stop telling them they are, that is why they act like they do, the don't respect anyone. Not even themselves.

    March 16, 2010 at 5:40 pm |
  35. Denise Barlow

    Joking or not this is really uncalled for even by a teacher who is looked up to as this guy apparently is. This type of thing should never be written on any students paper for any reason. To my way to thinking, it's unprofessional and alittle degrading regardless of how the student took it. It was a stupid thing to do. I hope the teacher doesn't lose his job over it.

    March 16, 2010 at 4:48 pm |
  36. Mary - Philly

    From what I understand, this was a teacher joking around writing this on the papers of students who scored at or near perfect on tests. I'm pretty confident that the only people who misunderstood his intent were the parents. While I get why the school district felt they had to reprimand him, death threats toward a teacher who seems beloved sounds like a great way to railroad a great teacher out of the school system. Hope the parents will be happy when he is replaced with a lesser teacher who doesn't connect with their kids.

    March 16, 2010 at 4:18 pm |