University of Southern Maine (USM) associate professor Dr. Anita Stewart McCafferty took the road less traveled to becoming an educator.
“My original plan coming out of high school was to be a lawyer,” she said. “I always joke that my husband, Mark, thought he was marrying a lawyer, but I did a little bait and switch. Instead, he got a public-school teacher.”
After Dr. Stewart McCafferty graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Maine in 1994, she took a year off in her hometown, Lincoln, Maine, to decide which direction to go.
“I ran into my high school principal,” she said. “He asked me what I was doing back in town and if I wanted to be a substitute teacher. I told him I was not interested at all.
“He convinced me to give it a go. It was fulfilling and changed my pathway. I had always done teaching in different youth groups and community organizations and enjoyed it, but I hadn’t considered it as a profession.”
Dr. Stewart McCafferty graduated with a master’s degree in teaching from the University of Maine in 1998. She also earned a Doctor of Education in teacher leadership from Walden University in 2011.
“I was an assistant principal, an athletic director, then a principal,” she said. “I never did anything the easy way. I went into teaching through a degree in political science and pre-law.
“Then, I went through administration through a [doctorate] in teacher leadership, when I could have taken a few courses and got my administration certification. I knew that eventually I would be interested in moving into the university level full time.”
Dr. Stewart McCafferty’s opportunity to take the next step to the college ranks came earlier than she expected. She landed a tenure-track position at USM in the education department two years after completing her doctoral degree.
“Very early in my teaching career, I worked as a part-time faculty member at the University of Maine,” she said. “My adviser through my master’s degree program was going on a sabbatical and arranged for me to take his place.
“I did my full-time teaching job, then drove 45 minutes to the university and did his full-time job,” she said of teaching not only her own classes but also serving in the teacher education program. “I did a lot of professional development courses, which I was interested in and had a knack for from early in my career.”
Since arriving at USM, Dr. Stewart McCafferty has seen the School of Education and Human Development transition into online education with four master’s degree programs. She teaches a number of courses including EDU 671: Organizational Behavior; EDU 679: Evaluation and Supervision of Teaching; and EDU 695: Special Topics in Teacher Leadership.
“We have a strong program,” she said. “Up until the last two years, we have pretty much been exclusively a face-to-face program.
“We had our on-campus programs in Portland. Then, we did cohort programs where we partnered with districts that were a little more removed from a distance perspective. We would travel there, or we would partner with other administrators who wanted to come teach.”
The flexibility of teaching online has helped USM’s degree programs grow across the board. Most recently, the Master of Science in Education in Educational Leadership online program launched in March 2020.
“We have had unique residence programs at USM,” she said. “We host several events, so our graduate students are part of a huge network — that was our niche.
“We did that well, but the online format has been a good challenge for us to move into more of the 21st century. It was perfect timing for the pandemic. We were poised for it.”
Hailing from a long line of Canadian clergy members, Dr. Stewart McCafferty and her sister are the only two United States citizens in their family.
“My dad was a minister for 56 years before passing on,” she said. “My brother is a minister. That’s why they traveled and came from Canada to a local church here in Lincoln. We grew up being the music for church.
“My parents were convinced we were going to learn as many instruments and as many harmony parts as possible. They are very dedicated to sharing music. My siblings and I sing and perform together weekly. It’s wonderful.”
Dr. Stewart McCafferty’s research focuses on the impact of high-quality service learning on students, educators and community partners. In addition, she is a co-facilitator of Southern Maine Partnership’s monthly meetings for principals and a member of the cross-college competency sub-committee on leadership. As for teaching online, she has adapted and helped design master’s degree curriculums for two of USM’s online programs.
A fondness for teaching in person made Dr. Stewart McCafferty a little apprehensive about the online format. It turned out to be the perfect change.
“It’s been a pleasant surprise to realize how much I also enjoy teaching in this environment.
“My doctoral degree was low residency with a large component of it online, so I had a lot of experience from the student perspective. That was a benefit to know what works and what doesn’t work. We have had good feedback from our students, too. It has opened up accessibility to so many people in our state. It’s been a great experience.”
Learn more about USM’s MSEd in Educational Leadership online program.