Critical Incident Protocol
In 2004, I was teaching at a Kindergarten Hagwon in Hwa Jeong, Goyang Shi, Gyeonggi Do, South Korea. I had twelve students in the class. I asked each student a question. If they answered correctly I gave them a ‘check’ by their name. At this point all the students had six checks by their name.
One student named Thomas started joking around. I told him to be quiet and he continued to disrupt the class. I then took the white board eraser and erased 3 of his stars. He was so distraught by this that he collapsed on the floor in a pile of despair.
I had to spend the rest of the class trying to console him.
Why had my lesson gone array? What terrible punishment had reduced this student to mush?
I had failed to notice just how important the ‘checks’ were to the students. If they received 3 checks then that would lead to a sticker. They would put the sticker on their sticker chart. Once they completed their sticker chart then they would receive a gift.
For a Korean seven year old (five years international age), this was a big part of their self-esteem and self-image. I failed to recognize that their status in the classroom was based in large part by ‘checks’, stickers, and the teacher’s approval.
Now I recognized the value of this system and how it should be applied. I still gave the students’ ‘checks.’ Three ‘checks’ still meant a student would get a sticker to put on their sticker chart.
However, now I took a different approach to discipline. If a student disrupted the class then I would pick up the white board eraser and hold it over their ‘checks.’ I would call out the student’s name. “Thomas!” He would see my intention. Then he would prostrate himself and say, “Sorry, sorry, sorry.”
That was enough to get him back on task. I avoided an emotional meltdown that would have disrupted the class further. Instead we could continue with the lesson unabated.