We are excited to announce that Emily Francis will be joining CALD as a regular columnist. We will feature Emily’s articles and videos here throughout 2022. Please join us in welcoming her to the CALD community. Emily is an outstanding educator and an advocate for multilingual students. Read on to learn more about her story and how she uses her experiences to help students and teachers today.
Leticia M. Trower: Emily, I’m so excited you’re joining the Center for Academic Language Development! You have so much experience not only teaching newcomers but learning English as a newcomer too. For those who aren’t already familiar with your story, can you briefly tell us about your journey from Guatemala to the United States, and from newcomer student to teacher and national speaker?
Emily Francis: Leticia, I’m honored and humbled by this wonderful opportunity to join the CALD team. I always get excited when I come across organizations whose center and focus are our English learners, their families, and individuals supporting students. I’m thrilled to contribute to CALD’s wonderful cause & focus.
For those who aren’t familiar with my journey, here’s a snippet of it: I was born and Guatemala and lived in my beautiful country of birth for 15 years. Of course, 15 years was long enough for me to tell so many stories and experiences I hold close to my heart and mind. As the oldest of five children, and having a single mother, it became my responsibility to care for my four siblings as my own children. I cooked, I cleaned our house, I washed clothes, I changed diapers, I prepared hundreds of bottles – and did all of the other necessary household chores to ensure my own and my siblings’ safety. I LOVED and enjoyed everything I did for my family. If I was not at home with my siblings, I was at the market helping my mother with our family business. Our business consisted of selling oranges or cauliflowers my mother would bring from the coast to sell in the city. If my merchandise was not sold entirely at the market, I’d have to go door-to-door selling what was left. I learned to be a great salesperson at a very early age!
I attended schools too – but family and work was our priority. Survival had a higher priority. By the age of 15, I had only completed the 6th grade. However, six years of education had been enough for me to learn how to read, write, research, and do academic critical thinking. I loved school. I always thought that education would be the key to success and the tool to break our family’s poverty cycle.
At the age of 13, my mother made the biggest decision of her life: She left Guatemala and came to the USA to find work and send money to support us while we stayed in Guatemala. As a full guardian of four younger siblings, I had a shack built in a neighbor’s back yard and lived there for two years. Right after my quinceañera party (15th birthday), my mother began the process of bringing all five of us here to the USA. Due to our lack of financial background, we were not able to obtain the proper documentation to travel to the USA properly documented, so, my mother hired a coyote (a smuggler who in exchange for an amount of money will cross you over the border with false documentation). This travel process was only done for me and my two younger sisters. My little sister & brother traveled with their dad and were reunited with our mother in a matter of days.
If you ask me to describe what’s it like to travel across countries with a coyote, I’d say that it’s very difficult to express how it feels. There’s a mixture of feelings. There is FEAR – fear of the unknown. Fear of a total stranger taking you places. But, there is also HOPE – hope that the person will keep their promise. Hope that you’ll be in a new land. Hope that tomorrow will be a new and better day. Our immigrant journey lasted two months. During my immigrant journey, I grew so much; I learned so much. I matured and learned to see life through the eyes of a visionary – I began envisioning a bright future for me and my family. However, all my dreams began to shatter once we were caught by immigration enforcement officers at the airport due to our false documentation. We spent all day being questioned and getting ready for deportation when my grandmother showed up with the proper documentation to claim us. That evening, I walked out of the airport into a NYC street with all the proper documentation and was ready to meet my mother after two years.
Because I was 15 years old, I was enrolled in high school as a freshman. I was in awe of the building, the resources, and the possibilities to achieve all my dreams. Unfortunately, once again, my dreams were shattered. Even though I had learned the English language as required, even though I had accumulated all credits required for graduation, even though I had packed away my own uniqueness and individuality to blend in and assimilate to my peers, I became a high school dropout at the age of 18. I failed the American History regents exam, a requirement for graduation. I left campus with a heavy heart and the idea that I had become a failure regardless of all my efforts.
I worked as a cashier and lived my life for several years just dragging my dreams UNTIL a teacher I came across in an elementary school made me realize my true potential. I was encouraged to get my GED, enroll to get an Associate’s Degree, and eventually transfer to the University of Charlotte to obtain a bachelor’s degree in MY OWN LANGUAGE, Spanish. I went on to obtain my Master’s degree and began a career in TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages), a profession I’ve passionately practiced for ten years so far.
LMT: How does your story inform your work as an educator today?
Emily Francis: I wholeheartedly believe that my immigrant experiences and personal journey as an English learner afford me a deep understanding of the challenges my students face and must overcome to find success. There’s such great power in being able to see my students eye-to-eye and say “I understand you,” “If I did it, YOU can too”. It’s easy for me to help my students unpack their cultural values and live their uniqueness and individuality without having to give up one culture for another. Without having to abandon one language for another. These beliefs and practices are centered on the idea that our students’ motivation, passion, and persistence are rooted in their experiences and journeys. The journeys our students bring are highly influential and they need to be honored and taken into account. So, based on this notion, my lessons and teaching pedagogy revolve around my students and their assets. I serve as an advocate and provide space and time for students to develop their full potential…even if the English language is not fully developed YET!
LMT: What can we expect from this new partnership with the Center for Academic Language Development? What kind of things will you be doing for CALD?
Emily Francis: Of course, my #1 passion is newcomers, so, most of the work I do and share is about newcomers. I create my own teaching and learning resources, so I’ll be sharing best practices, methods, and lessons for newcomers. I am currently teaching high school level students, but I’ve taught elementary level students and I am aware of the continuum and language development process for K-12 level students. I’ll be sharing the best pedagogical practices to create a comfortable environment where students belong and develop academically, culturally, linguistically, and socially.
Over the course of my teaching career, I’ve served as a keynote speaker and motivational speaker all around the country. I’d like to use the skills I’ve developed to provide webinars and vlogs for teachers, students, and parents. So far, we have a group of teachers of newcomers who are willing to meet monthly through a Zoom meeting and discuss ways to support our newcomers. The #PLC4Newcomers is the first initiative I’ll be offering through CALD, and I look forward to bringing forth more ideas to support our CALD community. I truly believe that the best ideas to support students come from teachers who are at the forefront of our field. I’m happy to provide a space and time for teachers to share their amazing resources and ideas to help each other. I envision our monthly meetings supporting our students, our colleagues, students’ parents, administrators, and community.