Students always want to know if they're you're favorite. Every class wants to be your favorite. The standard (and true) answer is that I like them all for different reasons. There's only one class I didn't really care for, but that was forever ago. Plenty of groups have been a hot mess, but it's an endearing kind of hot mess.
Secretly though, I do have an actual favorite class. And they stumbled into that status for lots of reasons. It was a random assortment of 1 freshman, 2 sophomores, 14 juniors, and 9 seniors in on-level Algebra II. A mix of abilities all up and down the scale. The needs of the seniors were far different from the (lack of) needs for the freshman.
What'd they do that was so great?
Through no action of their own, they stumbled into a grand experiment. For years I taught multiple sections of Algebra II and had decided it was time to really shake things up. Having a couple classes to play with would make it interesting. Funny thing though, when schedules posted, I had but one section of Algebra II. It strengthened my excitement for the project. No worries about pacing. We'd move as fast as we wanted to. If I ever get the opportunity to teach a single section of anything I'd do it immediately. It's so fun.
This group was the first to make me realize how valuable it is to set an expectation of work. We were going to be exploring a lot of new stuff in rapid succession and they'd need to practice it a lot. By October they figured out math time was work time. It was difficult to get them to sit still for the small bits of instruction I needed to add. A lot of days were no different than an experience Tina wrote about. I don't know if you've ever taught seniors in Algebra II, but to watch that group sit there at try at something consistently day in day out was so great. A couple of them were so proud of themselves when it was all over.
Their special status gave special opportunities. Not only were we going after a new curriculum, but we were going to play around with Estimation 180 all year too. And they built their own.
Not content with that, during the second semester they showed off the whole family of Algebra they've come to know (and not fear).
Their class time was a flurry of activity. They made the biggest messes.
The most important thing is the confidence they had when it was all over. I'd like to say the story ended with all of them getting an A for the semester and being crazy algebra ninjas. While a lot of them did enjoy that status, a few did struggle and were in over their head for lack of understanding or lack of trying. But that was a minority opinion. The ones that bought in were not scared of whatever I threw at them. Bring on the decimals, bring on the piles of parenthesis, bring on the quadratic wrapped in a log, it doesn't matter. They didn't give up.
Many of them said it was their favorite part of the day (math class, imagine) because of the atmosphere. It was my favorite part of the day. It made all the effort I was putting into it worth it. They were so hard to plan for and I made a lot of mistakes, but they did a great job with everything we did.
I hope everyone gets to have that one great group at some point in their career.