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How do we all benefit by amplifying all voices?

What does it mean to have a voice? Are some voices more “important” than others? Do louder voices have more valuable things to say?

Over my career as an educator of multilingual learners/English learners, I learned that our lives and our stories make an indelible imprint on the world that is unique as we are. Each part of our journey changes us and changes the world around us. As I began to appreciate these journeys, I found that many people–even young ones!--have stories that they want to share. They have pride in their experiences and they know that others can learn from their voice. This began my own journey to write this book: Voices of Newcomers: Experiences of Multilingual Learners.

Voice is power. Power to express oneself, power to control what people know about oneself, power to have a record of one’s feelings and experiences. Our students have lived through experiences that are unique to them and have stories to be told. As others read their words, their powerful words, their bit of history is being shared. That is the purpose of this book: to empower teachers to empower their students. They are empowered by what they choose to share and what they decide to write (and what not to write!). We can learn much from them by just giving them the opportunity to use their voice.

Are there some voices that are more “valuable” than others? Do children’s voices mean less than those of adults? Do voices in languages other than English have the same importance? Does a person’s position in life affect the value of their voice? I imagine that most people would reflect on these questions and want to feel that they amplify or value all voices equally. However, all of us must be intentional about providing respectful space for all diverse voices. The time and attention that we give (especially to young people) to listening to their voices and truly wanting to understand them will tell them explicitly how much their stories matter. They are important.

Let’s just make the statement that educators want what is best for ALL of our students, including diverse learners. Many teachers I have met would love to engage these students in their classes but simply do not know how to do so. Some teachers do not understand WHY these students are here and why they should work to meet their needs. This book is meant to be a practical guide to maximizing the learning experience that educators provide for our Multilingual Learners (MLs), Newcomers, and SLIFE (Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education). It includes what to do immediately for these students and how to help them progress, both academically and with language acquisition. Things to remember when working with them are discussed. Strategies and techniques to get them engaged are included. Most importantly, the experiences and perspectives of these children are highlighted so we can understand them and support them. We listen to the voices of students, their families, and their teachers to better understand them.

We are all teachers of diverse students who deserve our dedication, compassion, and knowledge to help them learn in the ways that are best for them. We teach with dignity and we celebrate all students. Our passion for teaching does not only include certain “flavors” of students; it must be extended to include children with a variety of backgrounds, Socio-Economic Status, languages, abilities, and cultures. We understand that we learn from our students every day and they are all valuable members of our communities and our classrooms.

This is an easy-to-read guide for all teachers looking to meet the needs of Multilingual Learners/English Learners, in particular Newcomers and SLIFE (Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education). Educators may feel intimidated admitting that they need to learn more about ways to help their students; here they will find easy-to-implement and non-judgmental support that busy teachers can put into place from the first moment they pick up the book.

Voices of Newcomers is meant to spark conversation and inspire creativity in working with MLs. There are discussion questions for each chapter that are designed to help us connect with the material and with our students. The design of this book is ideal for book clubs within your PLCs/PLNs. Most importantly, all educators must be part of this conversation–not only ESL teachers! This book is designed to be a go-to resource for general education teachers, preservice teachers, administrators, and ESL/ENL teachers who need support in teaching children who are new to the country and have little English. By amplifying the voices of these students, their families, and their teachers, this handbook includes real-life stories to help educators understand these diverse perspectives. This book is practical for educators of all ages who want to best empower their students to succeed.

I hope as we read and discuss these perspectives that our relationships and understanding of these groups will allow us to better meet their needs. It is every teacher’s responsibility to educate all students in their classes; some just need some support in how best to do so. With Voices of Newcomers, educators will have the resource necessary to be the teacher who inspires and responds to the needs all their students.

About the Author

Dr. Denise Furlong

Twitter: @denise_furlong

Instagram: @denisefurlong

Dr. Denise Furlong currently is working her dream job as a teacher educator for Georgian Court University in New Jersey. She has over 20 years experience teaching diverse learners and coaching their teachers in grades K-12. She lives at the Jersey Shore with her husband Tim, her kids (Ryan, Joey & Sarah), and their two dogs. You can connect with her on Twitter at @denise_furlong and Instagram at denisefurlong.

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