“You can’t be an effective teacher without being a learner at heart.” – Emily Francis

Emily Francis is an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher at Concord High School in Concord, North Carolina. She serves students from 9th through 12th grade with various English proficiency levels. Emily’s experience as an English Language Learner inspired her to become an ESL teacher and has equipped her with a deep understanding of the challenges her students must overcome to find success. Emily earned a BA in Spanish and a MAT in ESL from UNC-Charlotte. She serves as a professional development facilitator, motivational speaker, ESL PLC lead, teacher liaison to the Cabarrus County Board of Education as Teacher of the Year 2016, cooperating teacher, and mentor to beginning ESL teachers. She is also a board member for the Carolina TESOL. In 2018, Emily appeared on the Ellen Show where she was the recipient of a grant from fellow immigrant and CEO of Chobani, Hamdi Ulukaya. As a leader, Emily’s focus is to inspire students to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more.


“Your story is amazing!” —Ellen (from appearance in 2018)

Written with passion and a visceral commitment to her students, If You Only Knew: Letters from An Immigrant Teacher reflects the journey and experiences of Emily Francis, an immigrant and unaccompanied minor who travels from Guatemala to the USA to become a teacher. Once in the classroom, “Ms. Francis” learns about her students’ stories and journeys and begins to see her own life reflected in the lives of her students. Emily starts writing letters to her students in which her story is intertwined with theirs. This offers a unique expression of empathy, which helps them on their own personal journeys as immigrants living and learning in a new country.

“I could… imagine the fear you probably felt as you prepared to walk in a brand new school in a brand new country, so I made a promise that… I would make sure your experience would be a whole lot different than the one you had in that “icebox” with immigration.” (from the letter, “Dear Orlando”)

Speaking to both young adults and their teachers, If You Only Knew delivers support, solace, and empathy for immigrant students whose stories are too often are ignored. From personal experience, Emily Francis’ mission to offer a leg up to immigrant students deeply resonates with everyone interested in the immigrants and their journeys. 


  • Tell us about what it was like growing up in Guatemala, then immigrating to the U.S. 
  • Please talk about the role your mother and family played in your becoming a teacher
  • The language barrier for immigrants entering schools in a new country is daunting – can you talk to this subject?
  • What advice would you give a family who is considering moving to the U.S. for a better education? 



  • National Authors Day – November 1
  • National Young Readers Day – November 8
  • National STEM and STEAM Day – November 8
  • Education Week – November 15
  • National Parents Involvement Day – November 18
  • Giving Tuesday – November 29


“Francis’ advice is validated by her own experiences, and she doesn’t gloss over her heartbreak at her students’ stories… Francis is empathetic and supportive; she sees their passions, character traits, and achievements. In simple, stirring prose, she gives teens the incomparable gift of her genuine attention while accepting that she can’t meet their every need. Compelling, caring, and inspiring.” Kirkus Reviews

Highly accessible, heartfelt, and engrossing, If You Only Knew… is a love letter to immigrant students, whom author and teacher Emily Francis sees, celebrates, and equips with tools and strategies to meet the challenges they face as new Americans… It’s a template for inspired and effective teaching, modeling empathy, courage, and hope grounded in a firm belief in the rich possibilities these young lives hold.”
Anne Sibley O’Brien, author and illustrator of I’m New HereSomeone New and cofounder of I’m Your Neighbor Books and the Diverse BookFinder

“Coming to a new country is daunting, and Emily Francis’ riveting, emotional, and thought-provoking collection of letters between her and her students immediately grabbed the attention of my learners, opening the door for conversations about their own journeys.”
—Pamela Broussard, New Arrival Center teacher, Cypress Falls High School

“I think that this story represents me, and matters to me because I’ve had a good experience of what happens when you’re suffering in certain ways. This story may help [immigrants] to understand that we can have a better future and learn new things.”
—Oliver Coreas, student of Emily Francis