Historic farewell

APUSH teacher transfers to Copperas Cove ISD

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Underwood gives last lecture on April 28. Photo by Aiden Foster.

When AP United States History teacher Joe Underwood announced that he would be leaving during the spring semester, his students were more upset than he expected them to be.

“For right now, my students are really upset, I appreciate that, and it touches my heart,” Underwood said. “But I think maybe because of [their] age, [they’ve] actually taken it a little harder than I thought [they] would. Maybe it’s partly because I left in [the middle of] the year. Maybe if it was at the end of the year, [they] might not have taken it so hard, but I think there was a little bit of fear about what [was] going to happen with the AP exam.

“I think there’s been more fear than I expected.”

Underwood accepted an administrative position at Copperas Cove High School in March and announced his resignation to his classes in late April.

“It is bittersweet. [My last day] was a lot harder then I expected it to be,” Underwood said. “I’ve been at different campuses, and I’ve moved campuses before, but I am so privileged to have had a small role in the lives of (students) here. Part of the reason I think I got hired at Cove is because in my interview I told them, ‘I don’t need a job. I have a job, so this place is going to have to be pretty special for me to even consider leaving MAC.’ And they are. They’re not better than MAC, but for me in my situation, they are. I’m excited.”

With only a week separating his departure from the AP U.S. History exam, Underwood said he is confident in his students’ readiness.

“Ideally, of course, I would’ve gotten just a touch further, but I feel that one or two more lectures would not have made the difference,” Underwood said. “I am confident that [my students are] scholars of U.S. history. My goal is never the test. The test is one test on one day. It doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is that [my students] know [their] place in the Republic. They know what ‘We the People’ means and the history, the good, the bad and the ugly, of this amazing Republic, and they do. So, mission accomplished.”

In conjunction with the administration, Underwood selected substitute Thomas Mangum to be his long-term replacement.

“Mangum is a certified social studies guy, and we picked him to be a permanent [substitute],” Underwood said. “However, I have scripted every day until the end of the year. Every lesson plan is one that I designed. If I didn’t get the job at Cove and I was staying, this is what we’d do anyway. So what I’ve been [telling my students] is, ‘It’s the same tour. You just have a slightly different tour guide.’”

Underwood said the thing he’ll miss most about McCallum is the way he gets to interact with students.

“I’ve never so consistently had classes with multiple students who give more than one word answers, and I love getting to challenge [them],” Underwood said. “Not academically. I don’t know that my class is actually that academically challenging, more philosophically and politically. I get to come at [my students] from an angle that a lot of them have probably never been challenged from. It’s been a lot of fun to have those conversations and, I hope, [that I have been] teaching that we can disagree and still do life together. It’s OK to disagree with people. It’s all about how you disagree.”

Among his most significant moments, Underwood said the challenges of this school year are the most memorable.

“Each year has had some memorable moments,” Underwood said. “I always say ‘Let’s load up in my truck,’ and my first year here my students decided to actually load up in my truck. Last year, I had a student who attempted to do the, ‘Oh Captain, My Captain’ scene from Dead Poets Society, and I came in my room, and they all stood up on the desk and said, ‘Oh Captain, My Captain’ to me. I just lost it. I was crying then. This year, it has been [my students] making me go back and actually read the textbook. I knew they were going to ask me about things about the text, and I’ve had to go back and remember some things. [This class] has pushed me academically harder than I’ve ever been pushed. That excites me because the picture thing was fun, and the ‘Oh Captain’ thing was tender and emotional, but [this class] has done the thing that all teachers want their students to do. They learned.”

As an assistant principal, Underwood said he is most looking forward to the relationships he will get to build.

“I told [my students] in class, ‘Right now I get to play with 200 of y’all a year, but I’m going to get to play with 2,600 of y’all [at Copperas Cove]’. That’s exciting. That’s 2,600 kids I get to make laugh; 2,600 people that I’m going to have the chance to make their day a little better, hopefully’ 2600 people I get to laugh with and cry with and put my arm around and support. And, of course, discipline and not take it easy on them, but I just get to magnify what I do, and that’s exciting to me.”

Underwood said he does not expect to leave a legacy of a great teacher but instead a love for history.

“I’m highly forgettable. I really am,” Underwood said. “[These] guys are not going to remember me next year. [They’re] going to be worried about what colleges they’re going to. I wasn’t here [long] enough to have a legacy. Jim Ferguson, the man I replaced, who was here for over 20 years, that’s a legacy. If you want to call it a legacy, I hope some students remember there was a teacher who absolutely loved what he did and absolutely loved them. Maybe they picked up a couple of presidents or a couple of acts, or a doctrine or two, but most importantly I hope that my students know that they are absolutely a part of ‘We the People’ and what that means.

“If you want to call that a legacy, I hope that’s what my legacy is, that there are some students who understand that they are a part of a much bigger play, and they have a verse to contribute in that play, known as the American Republic. Mostly I hope [they] just know that I loved [them] and I loved history and I hope I helped [them] love history a little bit more.”

 

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