After three decades of work, Underwood retires



Teacher Poppy Underwood kneels to help students understand their work. She helped the students review circle formulas for their upcoming test.

Teacher Poppy Underwood makes gestures emphasizing her point while teaching. She was teaching a lesson about surface area and volume while going over homework. (MEGAN SHIPP// THE SCROLL)

Retirement is a reward for any teacher who has toiled in the service of teaching. They held out through decades of educating and even through a pandemic. This year, one of White Stations’ most notable teachers, Poppy Underwood, is saying goodbye to White Station. Underwood has been teaching at White Station for 23 years but has taught for a total of 34 years.

“I started teaching in 1989 at Treadwell High School,” Underwood said. “And then I went to Craigmont in the 1991-92 school year, and I stayed there nine years. And then I transferred to White Station in 2000.” 

Underwood’s path was not set in stone from the beginning as she had not originally planned to be a teacher. But after teaching at Craigmont for a year and a half, Underwood figured that she was better at the job than she originally thought.

“The day after I graduated from Ole Miss, this program opened at Memphis and it was where they paid for my master’s degree,” Underwood said. “I’m like, ‘Well, I’ll go do that.’ I don’t have to pay anything for it. And after about a year and a half, I had my degree, and then I got a job and I thought, ‘I’m not halfway bad at this.’”

Underwood has taught many honors and traditional math classes over the years, but what keeps her captivated with teaching is the moment at which students genuinely begin to understand what they have been working on.

“The thing that still [engages me] as a person …. you know the thing that excites me about teaching is seeing that ‘Aha!’ moment where kids really get what you’re trying to show,” Underwood said. “And then [another] that I highlight is always to me[is that] the child that really struggles in math [eventually] start being able to understand it.”

Though teachers perform their jobs with passion, there are also a few drawbacks. These drawbacks can pull teachers closer and closer to retiring or even quitting. These issues can be attributed to students, parents, administration or even the district.

“[I hate] this stress that’s put on the school by the district, meaning that test scores aren’t high enough and ‘What are we gonna do to get the scores up?’” Underwood said. “As I look back over the years, I’ve seen nothing but [the district] just keep pressuring [teachers] to a point now where I feel like everything I do is to [facilitate] ‘How is a child gonna do on that type of question on a test?’ and it’s just not the way you should be able to teach.”

Although Underwood herself hasn’t had any problems with the school’s administration, she has struggled with misguided parents accusing her of prejudice. It is one more thing that can drag teachers down.

“Sometimes parents complain and it affects you personally,” Underwood said. “For example, when someone says that I’m being biased, or accuses me of being racist against their child… They’re just kids in my room, we’re learning the same thing. But when you get accused by a parent or something like that, that’s definitely a few of the times that I’ve been crying to Mrs. Holland over.”

What makes for these lows in teaching is motivation from students. Alina Liu (10) took Underwood’s geometry class in the 2021-2022 school year and left with good things to say about the teacher’s skill.

“[W]henever I have a problem, she is very thorough in her explanations of the problems,” Liu said. “So I’d say she makes learning very easy because I am quite dense when it comes to math, but she actually helps me learn quite well.” 

Liu also has some words to say for Ms. Underwood as she prepares to leave the school and teaching as a whole.

“I think she does have a lot of effort and passion into teaching her kids and I really appreciate her for doing everything for us,” Liu said. “Me, myself included. We as students sometimes kind of suck.”

As Liu left words for her former teacher, Underwood has a few words to say to her coworkers she will leave behind. It isn’t any specific reason that she chose to retire now, it is simply her time to leave.

“[I]t’s just a wonderful group of people to work with. I really enjoy working here.” Underwood said. “And I’m not leaving because of the people I work with. I love the administration. I love the staff. [I] love the kids.”

The next message comes from Underwood to both her current students and the larger student body. While she may be famous for dress-coding students in her class or disciplining students for talking in class, she has always cared deeply about her students.

“[I] have been very blessed to teach the kids that I do because they are all special and wonderful,” Underwood said. “And I just want the best for them and whatever they choose to do in life. And to be a stepping stone [or a] passing [memory], you just never know how you affect somebody…. That’s all we’re trying to do as a school is to help you learn, some people do it in different ways.”