Amy Maldonado (far left) with students at Consentino Middle School in Haverhill, Massachusetts.
Amy Maldonado ’22 started training to be a teacher at an early age.
“There was this oversized closet in our house and my mom stripped everything out of it and brought in a little desk, lots of books and bookshelves, and a little whiteboard," she recalls. "My sister and I literally played school every single day. If my sister didn't want to play, I'd play with my stuffed animals. I just knew I wanted to teach.”
From teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) in her hometown of Lawrence, Massachusetts, to becoming the assistant principal of the Consentino Middle School in Haverhill, her childhood teaching dreams are coming true.
On May 21, she earned her M.Ed. from Lesley in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) and Bilingual Education. But her path to becoming an educator has taken some unexpected twists.
“No one in my family had gone to college,” she says. “I thought it was linear — you go to elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and then you get your dream job. But I learned that it's actually not linear at all. You go through peaks and lows and figure out the process.”
A budding poet
An English major in college, Maldonado's love for poetry first developed in high school. She interned at the Robert Frost Foundation but had never shared her poems with anyone.
“I was writing poetry, but low key — no one really knew that I was a poet,” she says.
At Middlesex Community College, she met a group of students who wrote poetry and performed at local open mic events.
“I was feeling brave one day and thought, 'I want to try it,'” she recalls. She was instantly hooked and joined the Middlesex slam poetry team.
Taking off as an educator
After graduation, Maldonado taught preschool briefly, but her first position teaching middle schoolers in Lawrence was where things really clicked.
“Middle school is my jam,” she says. “It was awesome. I got to work with a bunch of kids and learn so many cool stories about them.”
Her supervisor at the time suggested that she might be an ideal fit for an ESL position that had opened up. Bilingual in English and Spanish, Maldonado had never considered teaching ESL, but she trusted her supervisor.
“It was the best experience of my entire life,” she reflects.
She won accolades for her teaching, but struggled to pass the Massachusetts Teacher Licensing (MTEL) exam.
“The school I worked in was a neighborhood charter so I didn’t necessarily need a license, but I needed to be working toward it. And I tried for two years and I wasn’t able to do it."
At a crossroads, she took some time to ponder her next steps. A colleague and close friend who was a Lesley alumna was returning to Lesley for her master’s degree and urged her to apply.
“She had the best things to say about Lesley,” Maldonado remembers. “She said, ‘You’re a poet. It'd be great for you.’ And Lesley's name carries a lot of weight in the world of education.”
But she was hesitant.
“I'm a kid from Lawrence. I thought 'I won't fit in there.' I didn't even think it was possible. But she convinced me, and here we are. And it has been such an incredible experience.”
Finding a place at Lesley
At Lesley, she found a vital sense of community among like-minded educators. Professor Laura Schall-Leckrone was Maldonado’s first professor at Lesley for Essential Linguistics.
“Dr. Laura has this way of making you feel like you are on top of the world,” says Maldonado. “I'm not usually the kind of person who needs validation. I just go with the flow and do the best I can. But everything I turned in for Dr. Laura, I wanted to make sure it was my best.”
“Amy radiates positive energy and enthusiasm,” says Dr. Schall-Leckrone. “She speaks and writes with candor, clarity, creativity, and conviction. I can only imagine how she inspires and encourages the middle school students who are lucky enough to have her as their assistant principal and role model to be their best selves.”
Supported by a grant from Lesley’s Center for Human Arts Innovation, Maldonado recently partnered with Schall-Leckrone and two other recent graduates, Frances De Leon and Mary Guetching Phalante, to launch a Bilingual Leadership Network to support the activism and advocacy efforts of bilingual educators.
Speaking out loud
Maldonado loves her work as an assistant principal, but she hopes to return to classroom teaching soon.
“I'm hopeful that taking time out of the classroom will help me pass this test once and for all so that I can go back into the class.”
She continues to incorporate poetry and spoken word into her work with students.
“Kids love rap. They all think they're going to be the next rapper or the next influencer. I use that to my advantage, because middle schoolers are at that age where they're experimental and creative. I can talk to them about poetry, and they think it's the coolest thing. It's been really helpful in building relationships with students and so fun to give them an outlet.”
With a Lesley master’s under her belt, Maldonado is feeling more than prepared to tackle the next challenge.
“At one point, Lesley felt so out of reach for me,” she recalls, “When I got my letter of acceptance, I drove straight to Michael’s, letter in hand, and purchased a frame. I went home and hung it on the wall in my makeshift office. It served as a reminder that I belonged at Lesley, and I really appreciated that.”