Spotswood teacher calls it a day after 40 years

Ethel Fry plans to keep a presence in the schools during her retirement


Staff Writer

PHOTOSBYSCOTT PILLING staff Teacher Ethel Fry goes over a math lesson with fourth-grade students at Spotswood’s Appleby School Tuesday. She will retire in June after 40 years of teaching in the borough’s schools.PHOTOSBYSCOTT PILLING staff Teacher Ethel Fry goes over a math lesson with fourth-grade students at Spotswood’s Appleby School Tuesday. She will retire in June after 40 years of teaching in the borough’s schools. SPOTSWOOD — With career switching becoming more and more common, one local woman is happy she bucked that trend.

Ethel Fry will retire in June after spending four full decades as a teacher in the Spotswood school district. She began her career in September 1964 at the Schoenly School and will finish up at the Appleby School, where she has taught for 11 years.

And she doesn’t regret a minute of it.

“It’s a very nice district to work in,” she said. “We’re not the best paid in Middlesex County, but the people I work with are fantastic, and that sort of makes up for it. They love working with kids.”

And so does Fry, who spoke in general terms when asked about the high point of her career.

“I think it was just working with the kids,” she said. “The kids are so great. I like when you see a kid who had trouble, get it. You think, ‘Oh, it worked, it worked.’ ”

And her teaching has had an impact.

“She will always be remembered as positive, upbeat and very caring about the children of Spotswood,” said Board of Education President Alan Bartlett, whose daughter was in Fry’s kindergarten class. “I wish her good health and happiness in her retirement.”

Fry, a lifelong Milltown resident, has also taught basic skills as well as second-, fourth- and fifth-grade math, but most of her career has been spent teaching second grade.

She stayed in the Spotswood schools throughout because of the environment.

“I love working with the kids,” she said. “There are always problems, but it’s not their fault most of the time … . The teachers are still as dedicated as when I started. Discipline is harder to do now, but the kids are still good in Spotswood.”

Fry’s entire family has been affected by teaching, which is something of a common career in the family. Her husband, Max, retired 10 years ago after teaching at Appleby School.

Staci Gaye, Ethel’s daughter, said she got to see her mom’s hard work up close.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Gaye, of East Brunswick. “I think she put in a lot of hard work and molded a lot of minds. People think teaching is really easy, with summers off; they don’t take into account the work you do at home.”

Despite the teaching schedule, her mom was at “every single sport event we ever played,” said Gaye, who has two brothers, Randy, now deceased, and Larry.

One of the perks that comes with being the daughter of a teacher was that “you always had an answer for your homework,” Gaye said.

Her uncle, John Orlick, was also a teacher.

Fry said that when she started in Spotswood, the district only went up to the eighth grade. About eight years after

her start, Helmetta students began attending Spotswood, and in the mid-1970s the high school was built.

One noteworthy change Fry has seen over the years is the expectation level.

“The state expects you to do a lot more than teach,” she said. “You pretty much have to teach the tests.”

This, she said, has been the greatest frustration for her as a teacher.

“The biggest challenge was when the state testing came in and you had to gear teaching to what the state wanted, not what was necessarily best for the kids,” she said, adding that things are tougher for teachers nowadays.

In her retirement, Fry won’t wander too far from teaching — she plans to work part time next year as a substitute. But she’ll also do a little traveling, a lot of reading and stitchery, and plenty of relaxing.

Gaye said those who know her mother can contact her at

Despite the recent challenges and 40 years of hard work, Fry doesn’t regret that 1964 job application.

“I probably would go back into teaching again,” she said.