Frances McGarry taught English and theater in the Northport-East Northport school district until 2004. Her former students include Tony and Emmy winner Edie Falco, a graduate of Northport High School and a star of “The Sopranos” and “Nurse Jackie.” Photo Credit: Blanche Mackey
Updated June 18, 2016 10:18 AM
By Joe Diglio firstname.lastname@example.org
The biggest piece of advice Frances McGarry gave students over the course of her 30-year teaching career — take risks and don’t be afraid of failure — was crystalized in one young man who overcame his fears and found his voice.
McGarry said an eighth-grade student she once had was terrified of a public speaking assignment because of a speech impediment. His mother asked that he not participate, but McGarry refused. She worked with him to overcome his barriers.
“By the end of the year, he was speaking freely and confidently,” McGarry said. The student had revealed himself to be “a bright kid who had a lot to share and was eager to voice his opinions.”
McGarry, who taught English and theater in the Northport-East Northport Union Free School District until 2004, said she was fortunate to come across many students with whom she could share her passion of literature and the arts. Often, the roles between McGarry and her students reversed.
“The honors English classes’ literary discussions kept me on my feet and taught me to listen and guide their queries and observations,” McGarry said.
A decade after retiring, though, McGarry still is heavily involved in both teaching and theater. She continues to work as an actress, most recently performing in the off-Broadway musical “Votes.” As a board member of the League of Professional Theatre Women, she serves as a mentor to young actresses. McGarry also runs an arts advocacy blog called “First Online with Fran.”
She said it’s been rewarding to see her impact on those she taught.
One former student went on to become a famous actress of stage and screen. In a 2013 Broadway.com interview, she said McGarry was the teacher who inspired her to pursue acting.
High praise for the teacher, but to McGarry, she was still Edie Falco, the shy teenager who graduated from Northport High School. McGarry said she maintains a relationship with the former “Sopranos” star to this day and attends many of her performances.
“She’s just ‘Edie’ to me,” McGarry said.
Other students have reached out to her over the years, submitting testimonials on her blog about how the arts — and McGarry — have transformed their lives. Considering her continued involvement in theater and the lasting connections she has maintained with her students, it’s no wonder McGarry said she doesn’t miss teaching.
“I’m always amazed at the lives I’ve touched,” McGarry said. “There are so many paybacks to being a teacher.”
Editor’s note: This story is part of an ongoing series on the careers of retired Long Island teachers and where they are now. If you are a retired Long Island teacher and would like to share your story, click on the Newsday link.