“I win, I win!” These words most often associated with sports games recently became the anthem of my second grade classroom.

When I first started teaching I blogged about the challenges I was facing as a brand new teacher with no teaching background and a simple desire to give my best to my students. There have been times where I leave class feeling like I didn’t meet that goal. I felt as if I wasn’t teaching them anything and that they weren’t able to comprehend their new English vocabulary.

After their first exam some of my students came back with 9, 16, 27, and 34 percents on their tests. I was discouraged and didn’t know what to do. I felt like I was failing these precious students who to deserve the opportunity to learn English. Learning English will open the door for so many of my students. It is the key to getting them out of their aldeas (towns), it is the key to getting them into college, and it is the key to allowing them to see the world outside of Guatemala.

So, I questioned myself, would I ever be a good teacher? Could I figure out how to help them succeed?

When all of these questions were running through my head, I received an email from a great friend of the school’s who is a teacher from Canada saying that she would be visiting us for three weeks and would come with resources for teaching English. This was the perfect example of God putting people and things in your life exactly when you need them. Lisa came to Valley of the Angels with arms full of resources and new ideas on how to engage the students in the classroom and help them succeed in learning to speak English.

Previously I had given my students a written exam in English. I quickly learned that was not the way for them to best demonstrate what they know. One student, who has a lot of trouble reading in Spanish, was completely unable to read words in English and failed his exam.

How could I expect students who struggle to read in their native language to be able to read in a second? How was I going to create an exam that gave my students the opportunity use their knowledge of English vocabulary? Lisa inspired me and helped me develop instead an oral exam allowing the students to practice their pronunciation and memorization of new English vocabulary words.

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Amanda’s second grade class posing in front of their new vocabulary words

The same student who previously failed his exam came to my desk full of confidence prepared for his new oral exam. He knew every animal and school vocabulary word I asked him and received 100 percent on his exam. When I told him his score he shouted “¡gano, gano! —I win, I win.” I was confused as to what he meant, so he explained that passing an exam translates to “winning.”

Shortly after I shared with my students that they had all “won” their exams. Cheers erupted and the chants of “¡gano, gano!” filled my classroom.

I have always heard teachers say that seeing a student who previously struggled finally understand is a rewarding experience. Well, now as a teacher myself I can say that’s true. The joy, light, and excitement in the students’ eyes when they “win” their test is incredible. I hope that this newfound zeal and confidence in English will help my students to persevere not only in my classroom, but also in all areas of their lives.