Jeff McCarthy’s second career is first rate.
“Teaching is a passion of mine that I had always wanted to pursue,” he said. “I went back to school at 38 years old. I was fortunate enough to get hired in my dream job about two weeks after graduation.”
After nearly 10 years as an elementary school physical education teacher, McCarthy enrolled in the hybrid Master of Education in Educational Leadership program at William Paterson University.
“I feel fortunate and blessed to be part of the school and spend my days with the children,” he said of his work as a PE teacher. “The ability to make a difference is a gift.
“The opportunity to be a leader gives me more avenues, resources and access to make a difference to more students.”
Most of the courses in the program are online, so McCarthy can usually do coursework around his schedule as a teacher at Mountview Road School in Morris Plains, New Jersey.
“I absolutely love the program,” he said. “I was hesitant initially because I am a ‘people person,’ but the flexibility of the online course schedule is wonderful. The professors are also delightful and make the experience much more personal, which is huge.”
McCarthy was thinking of returning to school for some time but wasn’t ready to commit until he visited with WP Educational Leadership Program Director Dr. Samuel Fancera.
“He got the ball rolling,” said McCarthy. “Dr. Fancera said, ‘Let’s get this done.’ He inspired me to look at it as a potential option and then to do it.”
New Game Plan
After graduating from Hanover Park High School, where he played football and baseball, McCarthy embarked on a career in finance. Eventually, he lost his initial passion for his job and was at a crossroads in his professional career.
“My wife, Laura, told me to go back and get my degree to be a physical education teacher,” he said. “I said, ‘How can I do that? I’m 38 years old. I have a family.’ She said, ‘You’re going to turn 40 with or without the degree.'”
So, McCarthy graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physical education and health certification K-12 from Kean University in 2009. He and his wife also have two daughters, Olivia (20) and Sophie (18).
“They were in third and fifth grade when I got the job,” he said. “Being a parent, you realize how special that is. Throw that in with how much I love sports, the outdoors and exercise … it was a great opportunity. Going in, I didn’t realize the importance and the magnitude of the experience.”
Since enrolling in the M.Ed. in Educational Leadership program at WP, McCarthy has gained valuable knowledge and enjoyed broadening his horizons as a teacher.
“I have loved all of the courses,” he said, calling the program well-rounded. “Going in, you don’t know what to expect. You think it’s going to be a lot of curriculum-based instruction and how to lead a school through curriculum.”
“How to deal and interact with people is so much more philosophy- and psychology-based. That’s been my favorite part of the program. It teaches you how to handle adversity, different situations and personalities and ways to collaborate. It’s all applicable.”
McCarthy also enjoys bonding with his daughters through school. Olivia attends George Washington University, while Sophie is a senior in high school.
“We do some homework together,” he said. “That’s the greatest thing. I am 49 years old. Sometimes with technology, something will come up that I am not as proficient in. I always go right to the girls to ask them what to do. It works out well.”
McCarthy plans to walk in the commencement ceremony at WP once he becomes the first person in his immediate family to earn a master’s degree in May 2021.
“That’s something you should be proud of and experience,” he said. “I would have never thought in my wildest dreams I would be getting a master’s in educational leadership.
“I sometimes speak to my students about what they should and shouldn’t do. I tell them, ‘You learn from Mr. McCarthy’s mistakes.’ It’s very relatable.”
Although McCarthy looks forward to having a graduate-level degree, he has no plans to stop teaching physical education any time soon.
“Seeing a student accomplish something that they didn’t think they could do, and the smile on their faces, is what it’s all about,” he said.
He is staying open to the possibilities that the M.Ed. degree will bring his way.
“In a perfect scenario, I’d like to be a vice principal at a middle school or high school. Whatever works out, I would embrace the opportunity.”
McCarthy, who enjoys running and golfing in his free time, believes that it’s important to go into the M.Ed. in Educational leadership program at William Paterson University with an open mind.
“You should prepare to be engaged and exposed to a plethora of ideas,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing about this program — it’s so much more than educational leadership. It’s learning to be a better person and leader. From top to bottom, the staff and faculty have been top-notch.”