I’m not sure what the data proves regarding this point. Our test scores might turn out to be awful and our students might be unprepared and like communism and Wings and Crystal Clear Pepsi, this might be a failed experiment that started out as a grand idea and fell flat.
However, I am immediately noticing the benefits of self-contained. Discipline is easier than ever before. If it is not about rewards and punishments but about trust and relationship, then a teacher can build this in the first few weeks rather than trying to remember names (much less personalities) in a sea of one hundred and sixty students.
It goes beyond simply “discipline” though. While I am not the warm, cuddly man-in-a-cardigan kind of teacher, I am consistent and I do listen with empathy. When students aren’t switching constantly, we get to know one another and already they see me out on duty and share their questions or their insights or their stories. I become an available person to listen to them and at that age, knowing that they have a voice is a big deal.
Furthermore, time is more fluid. If a math lesson takes longer, I can push it into science and then create a longer block the next day. Not a big deal, really. Yet, it goes deeper. I now have a true humanities block, where I am blending together reading, writing and social studies into larger themes. Right now it’s “Developing a Social Voice” and next week it is “Songs of Freedom,” which will include the poetry we cover, a few biographies, the American Revolution and their own stories of freedom.
What happens is that the boundaries begin to blur in the best possible way. I had a student yesterday make a connection between cells and child labor in the early 20th century. Others have tied in the timeline to the number line in math. While this might not seem like a huge deal, the connections across the curriculum are helping them reshape how they think about a subject. A student told me yesterday, “I never knew there could be logic in social studies” and another one said, “I feel like this kind of math actually is used in life.” These are rare compliments from a group that is often so self-conscious they don’t risk giving positive feedback.
I’m not suggesting that this works for everyone. I know of two teachers who taught self-contained and realized that they preferred to be experts in one content area. I’ve known a few who mention the fact that the lack of student variety began to get on his nerves. It’s early in the year and honestly I might end up like that. However, at this moment, I’m beginning to think that the self-contained model is one that might work well for my students and for myself.