Battling the Back Talk

talking-backBy Sabrina Bong — When I first started counseling, I remember thinking that I was going to be a great counselor.

All of my students would get along. There would be no bullying, no teasing, and no drama. They would all be great students and have no behavioral or attendance issues. And even if they did have problems, one talk with me would straighten things out. I had worked with some awesome counselors during my internship experiences, and it seemed like their word with students was law. Once the counselor spoke with the struggling or arguing student, that student turned their act around.

At first, it seemed to work. In my first couple of weeks, my students were great. Though there were some lingering behavior problems, all of the drama was easily solved. I was flying high.

And then, this past week, I hit my first road block. I had spoken to a student about teasing one of his classmates. He promised me, with a very solemn face, not to tease the other boy. So imagine my surprise when the boy who was being picked on came up to me in the hall and said, “Miss Bong, he’s still making fun of me.”

Really?! I immediately went to my office and called the teaser down.

“I heard you were still making fun of J,” I told him.

“He deserves it,” was the response I got back. “He’s a weirdo.”

You could’ve knocked me over with a feather when I heard that. “How would you like it if someone made fun of you?” I asked.

“I’m not weird,” he said.

“Put yourself in his shoes,” I said. “Now how would you feel?”


Never before had I encountered a student who was so defiant! I continued to ask him questions, trying to get him to see the other person’s point of view, but he ignored me. Finally, I wrote him a pass back to class and sat in my office, fuming.

The rest of the day, I went around asking for advice on how I could get this student to understand. All my fellow counselors and teachers offered me great advice. Some suggested that I talk to the administration. A few said I should just keep my eye on the pair, but not call them down again. One even joked that I should make fun of the student and see how he felt!

I wish I could say that I found a magical answer, but I have not so far. I am still trying different strategies and ideas. So far, nothing I have tried has “stuck.” I check in with the student who is getting teased every other day, and he says that while the teasing has not gotten worse, the other boy still will make snide comments on occasion.

I learned that it is okay that I don’t have all the solutions. I am still learning. It is okay that I go to my fellow counselors at least seven times a day to ask questions. This doesn’t mean that I am a poor counselor. It means that I am open to expanding my knowledge. And though my students may back talk and create drama, I feel fortunate to be learning some important lessons from them!

2 Responses to “Battling the Back Talk”

  1. 1 Bob July 7, 2014 at 11:47 am

    As a parent of a (recovering) defiant teen, I really feel for your situation. Once I realized how severe my son’s defiance was, I searched out a solution – the research and books on this topic are fairly consistent in how to turn around a defiant and oppositional child (written down rules, well understood consequences, and calm consistency in enforcing them). Unfortunately I think it’s hard if not impossible for a teacher to do this – it’s the parent’s job.

    One thing that I would have valued more is hearing this from the school in clear terms: “Johnny is showing a pattern of defiance and disrespect. There is only so much we can about it here, but we wanted you to know these problems are serious and will impact his future success if it stays like this”… and have some resources ready for the parent if they ask.


    • 2 sbong2013 July 8, 2014 at 10:18 pm

      Thank you so much for the feedback; it is greatly appreciated! I also appreciate your honesty in sharing your experience. I will be sure to follow your advice and gently alert parents to the problem that is occurring. It is my hope that we, as a team, will be able to help this student turn his strong personality from being more negative into more of a positive!


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