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Classroom Management to Deal with Student Backtalk

Janelle Cox

We have all been there, when a student is disrespectful and talks back to you, and you stand there utterly shocked and not sure how to use classroom management to respond. Time and time again, this happens in classrooms all over the world, and every time it happens it gets more frustrating. A student who speaks to their teacher in a disgraceful manner does not respect her authority. This can lead to much bigger classroom management problems if it’s not taken seriously and acted upon immediately. Here are a few teacher-tested classroom management tips to help you deal with this dreaded backtalk, so that your other students will not undermine your authority as well.

Classroom Management: Stay Calm and Reiterate Your Rules and Consequences

Being verbally abused by a student is not an easy thing to deal with. However, you are the respectable adult in the situation and students are always looking to the adult to model the appropriate behavior, so you must stay calm and verbalize that that kind of talk is not allowed in your classroom. Usually, the typical back talker just wants to get a rise out of you, and gain the attention of their peers. What you can do is to tell them that what they said was inappropriate for school, then reiterate what your class rules are, and what the consequence for backtalk is. Once this is said and done, move on. The last thing that you want to do is get into a debate in front of the other students.

Use the Opportunity as a Teachable Moment

You are probably thinking that when you are in the moment of getting negatively talked down to, the last thing that you are thinking is to use it as a teachable moment. However, it is the best time to teach the students about respecting others. You are the teacher and it is your job to TEACH! Take a deep breath and count to 10. Then, take this moment and discuss “Respect” with your students. Model what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. Have students share a story about when they were disrespected and how it made them feel. You do not have to take every moment that you are back talked as a teachable moment, but do it when it feels right, or when it’s gone too far.

Have a Heart-to-Heart with the Student

Take the time to have a one-to-one conversation with the student. Whether they meant to say it or not, it deserves a moment out of your day to be talked about. Tell the student how their words came across to you and how it made you feel. If it was a one-time thing, then you can give them a pass, but only after you have spoken with them and discussed how it was inappropriate and uncalled for. If this happens time and time again with the same student, and you notice that they are looking for attention, whether it’s bad or good, then you must address it immediately. Sometimes, students who are lashing out and in need of attention are having issues at home or they just need to be redirected. Talk to them and figure out if you need to send them to the school counselor. Or, if they are just in dire need of some attention, then show them how they can get it in a positive way.

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If it Becomes a Constant, Take Action

If the backtalk is a constant disruption to your class, then you must take action. If you have tried to reiterate your rules, had a heart-to-heart, and used the opportunity for a teachable moment, but none of those things worked, then all that is left is a major consequence. A younger student may get “Fun Friday” taken away from them, or recess. While an older student may have to stay after school for detention. The last case scenario would be a call home and/or a visit to the principal.

Unfortunately, for many students, they are not taught the appropriate way to speak to others. You also have to bear in mind that the students’ behavior may be totally unrelated to you. For these students, you may just be serving as an outlet for their frustration for what’s going on in their personal lives. As a teacher, you need to take each backtalk seriously, and figure out if it’s coming from a larger issue. Once you have figured that out, then you will know which strategy is right for you to choose. 

How do you deal with backtalk from your students? Do you have any classroom management tips or strategies that work well for you? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below, we would love to hear your thoughts.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds master's of science in education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Skyward. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.