Rex Roland, the North Carolina middle school teacher who gained national notoriety after scrawling “-20% for being a loser” across the top of a student’s homework assignment (see video posted to ABC News), is precisely what’s wrong with American education in the 21st century. His methods are inappropriate, potentially harmful, and persistent to the point of being disrespectful to parents.
According to the ABC report, the trouble for Roland started last November when the 12-year Enka Middle School veteran called Patty Clement’s daughter a “loser” on a sheet of homework. Clement protested the note, and asked that Roland refrain from targeting her daughter again. Apparently unwilling to follow the explicit wishes of a parent, he repeated the act yet again in recent days, beginning a firestorm that led Clement to the media.
Although he defends his bully-like behavior by calling it a “teaching style” and insists that he was only joking, Roland is no better than the kid who steals lunch money or stuffs a new student into a locker. In fact, as someone in a position of authority charged with demonstrating proper behavior for impressionable children to model, Rex Roland is much worse than your run of the mill schoolyard bully: He’s a schoolyard bully in an adult’s body, who can drive, vote, drink, and do all of the things reserved for the ranks of purportedly mature people. It’s one thing to have a sense of humor; it’s another to repeatedly cross the line that you’ve been asked not to cross.
It’s not just a matter of Clement and her daughter being ‘unable to take a joke’, as some might assert. It’s a matter of respect, and of teaching respect. If Rex Roland doesn’t respect his students and parents enough to treat them with a modicum of dignity and respect, how can he possibly be trusted to teach the next generation the meaning of the word? If he doesn’t stop objectionable behavior when asked, what does that say about his character?
Further, sensitivity awareness is essential when it comes to dealing with children enmired in their often painfully awkward middle school years. It’s bad enough to be targeted by fellow classmates, and far worse to feel judged by someone who is supposed to have your best interest at heart. It’s one thing to disregard the words of a peer who’s just as unsure of the world as you are; after all, they’re your age, they share your experiences, and they don’t know more than you do about surviving in this world. But an adult is a different story. Even the most skeptical of pre teens likely still harbor shards of respect for their elders. And it’s painful to be denigrated by someone in authority. There’s no upside.
It doesn’t take much internet research to support the theory that kids don’t need teachers like Rex Roland putting them down: They get more than enough grief from their peers. MomLogic reports on Jeremiah Lassiter, an Acton, CA high school freshman, who killed himself in October of 2008 after enduring nearly endless teasing by his classmates. There’s also the notable case of 13-year old Megan Meier, who hanged herself in response to cyberbullying in October of 2006. And sadly, there are more cases like these. No one should have to tolerate abusive treatment.
Perhaps it’s a leap to go from Rex Roland’s “you’re a loser” to suicide, but the painful truth is that seeds of doubt are planted in impressionable, insecure minds each and every day. If adults don’t accept the responsibility of providing guidance and support – instead of trying to be cool and hip – what’s the inevitable outcome? It’s possible to establish positive teacher/student relationships without resorting to potentially destructive techniques.
All I do know is that as a parent, it horrifies me to think that teachers like this are actually out there imparting their bizarre and unhealthy notions of humor on children.
The Buncombe County School District needs to make an example of Rex Roland. They need to step up and show the nation that it’s never acceptable to minimize our children, even in jest. It’s time that Rex Roland learned precisely how powerful – and harmful – words can be: He needs to hear ‘you’re fired’.
Amy Judd, Rex Roland: N.C. Teacher Calls Student a Loser on Her Paper, NowPublic.com
Extreme Bullying Leads to Suicide, MomLogic
Parents: Cyber Bullying Led to Teen’s Suicide, GMA
N.C. teacher writes ‘loser’ on assignments, ABC Global