Dealing with Challenging Students (#24)

When students challenge us, it is difficult to not react defensively. Second-year school counselor Sammi Borders shares how she copes with students who push our buttons.

Inspiring School Counselors
Inspiring School Counselors
Dealing with Challenging Students (#24)

This Week's Storyteller: Sammi Borders

Photo of School Counselor Sammi BordersSammi Borders is in her second year as a school counselor at Rose Park Elementary School in Salt Lake City, Utah after graduating from Northern Arizona University in 2019. Her passion has always been working with kids from a social emotional lens so Sammi is happy to be working as a school counselor!


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Matt Fleck:
Hi everyone, welcome to Encouraging Words for School Counselors – the five-minute podcast with touching and humorous stories shared by school counselors from around the country. I’m Matt Fleck with Inspire Success. We’re sponsored today by RAMP Ready, a new online learning platform with three levels to help you adopt a comprehensive counseling model. RAMP Ready Level I is free with an effective comprehensive counseling model that any school can adopt quickly and relatively easily. Level II Ascent helps you adopt the ASCA National Model over six months from January to June. And Level III Summit helps you step by step to prepare an exemplary RAMP application. You can find out more at

If I ask you to picture a student who annoys you – for whatever reason – would it be hard to come up with an image? Maybe more than one? Often they’re good kids; it’s sometimes just a challenge to find the goodness. School Counselor Sammi Borders has those students too, and she shared a virtual sound booth recording with us of how she deals with these difficult challenges.

Sammi Borders:
I have, you know, random, funny stories that students have done throughout the years, but recently on Zoom, you know, students are very great about unmuting themselves. And, you know, I have this kindergartener who continuously just randomly unmutes while I’m teaching and just wants to share random objects with me throughout the class period. And recently he’s just been going, “Hi, Miss Sammi. Hi, Miss Sammi.” Like, you know, every three or four minutes. So, you know, as a second year school counselor, I don’t have all the experience, but what I’ve noticed is students who come to us with behavior issues or lots of trauma, and maybe react to us or things that we do. I always tell myself, it’s not about me.  

We’ve heard this and we know it, but it’s difficult not to take it personally when a student or parent is right in your face. During my required practicum to be a school counselor, I chose to work at a lockdown facility for youth eight to 18 years old, who had suffered severe emotional trauma. It was a place where I learned quite visually what enuresis and encopresis meant, and how to do a physical hold with a patient who was out of control. We often found that these young people, many who had suffered unspeakable sexual and physical abuse would “go off,” as we’d say, screaming horrible obscenities at you and spitting in your face in order to get the staff, to put them in a hold because as you learn putting them in a hold, even though it was a physical constraint, was sometimes the only way they knew to get a semblance of affection. The constraint was sort of a backwards way of getting a hug. And in a related way, Sammi says some of our students are also wanting something that they just won’t, or can’t, articulate in an inappropriate way  

When they are either yelling at me or screaming or throwing or whatever they’re doing, I have to remind myself it’s not about me. They’re not doing this because they hate me or they hate whatever’s going on. They are trying to cope with whatever’s going on and that’s their way of coping. And I think that has allowed me to stay calm in a lot of intense situations, especially this year with everything going on. 

Someone once told me that the most annoying students you have – you know who they are – those students may actually be the students who need you the most. It’s not always that they need attention, sometimes they’re testing to see if you’re strong enough to still like them even when they show you their worst side. Sort of daring you to love them, I guess. And when you DO show empathy or concern for them, when you treat them with dignity and respect and see through the trojan horse, so to speak, of their annoying habits – sometimes they’re able to connect with you in a deeper way. I’ll have to say, it isn’t my strength. It was difficult for me in that lockdown facility to separate the action from the intent – but I’m so glad that many of the workers there could do it – and it’s still something I’m working on. 

We appreciate Sammi’s story and would love to hear YOUR story of working as a school counselor. You can use our virtual soundbooth like Sammi did at by clicking on “Add Your Story.” You can subscribe to the Encouraging Words for School Counselors podcast on all of the major podcast apps, and find us on social media under the tag “1nspireSuccess” – just replace the first “I” with the number one.

That’s it for us. Have a great week!