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A gentle, guiding light for music education students

Music lesson plans peppered with constructive comments in red ink; a welcoming smile that greeted you when you entered her office; and keen eyes and ears that observed students teaching in their practicums. These acts of caring depict the strong relationship Lucy Underwood, associate professor of music, had with her students, like Charlotte Henderson Bearden, ’76, and Sheila Cash Clopton, ’82.


Associate Professor Lucy Underwood teaches a music education class at
Georgia College in 1963.

Bearden, who is in her 43rd year of teaching music, fondly remembers Underwood as a mentor and a friend. 

“She was my advisor, so I was very lucky in the fact that I had a relationship with her from the beginning of my freshmen year,” said Bearden. “But, during my junior year, I was worried if I would be able to find a job as a teacher because of the recession of 1974. Plus, I had student loans to pay off.”

Feeling down and questioning her goal of becoming a music teacher, Bearden decided to talk to Underwood—whose door was always open to students.

“I asked, ‘Do you have a minute Ms. Underwood?’” said Bearden. “And she said, ‘Sure come on in.’” 

“I sat down and poured my heart out to her, telling her how I was feeling and told her I questioned my major. I didn’t know if I was good enough to be a music teacher,” said Bearden. “She encouraged me to believe in myself.”

“‘You don’t need to feel this way,’ said Underwood. ‘You’re just going through the junior blues. You’re going to be an amazing teacher and this is why ...’” 

“When I think back on that day, I get emotional,” said Bearden. “If I had listened to my fears and my voice telling me I might not be good enough, I just can’t imagine all the wonderful joys of my 43 years of teaching music I would’ve missed out on. I’m so indebted to her for that.” 

For 20 of those years, Bearden had a professional relationship with Underwood, who brought her students into Bearden’s classroom in Baldwin County every fall and winter quarter. 

“She continued to be my mentor and an amazing friend all that time,” said Bearden. “She instilled a passion for music in us.”

Underwood led by example making her music education classes fun for her students. 

“I loved to go to her classes to see what she was going to have us do for that day,” said Bearden. “She allowed us to be creative. She taught me how to be positive with my students by gently correcting them and encouraging, shaping and molding them into music makers.”

Students could always count on Underwood to provide positive comments about their presentations and practicum teaching in the local schools.

“She would fill up our lesson plans with comments in red ink,” Bearden said. “Lucy would always point out where there was room for improvement, but she would also always find something uplifting to say—a shining example for us to follow by doing her best as a teacher. I think the fact that I’m still teaching music after 43 years and don’t have any intentions of quitting anytime soon, is evidence that I’m applying all I learned from her.” 

Clopton, ’82, has been an elementary music specialist for 36 years. While attending Georgia College, she did her teaching practicum in Bearden’s class with Underwood sitting at the back of the classroom taking notes on Clopton’s lesson plans and how well she carried them out. 

“After one of my first lessons I taught in the classroom, I still remember Ms. Underwood saying, ‘You forgot the kid in the red shirt in the back of the classroom. Did you notice he was looking out the window and was not involved in the lesson? Always have everybody involved. Just find a way to pull them all into the lesson, ’” said Clopton.


Lucy Underwood, associate professor of music, in 1962.

In addition to evaluating her students in the classroom, Underwood stayed up-to-date with teaching trends.

“She had a gift of staying connected and current with what was going on in the schools,” Clopton said. “Ms. Underwood was in the Baldwin County schools with her practicum students so she could see the kind of students we were dealing with and their situations. She really knew teaching practices and what worked in the classroom. That benefited all of us by showing us how to reach every student.”

Shortly after she began teaching, Clopton applied what she learned when she was evaluated by the State of Georgia and its Teacher Performance Assessment Instrument (TPAI), which the state used to evaluate her teaching skills, lesson plans, interaction with students and classroom arrangement. 

“One of the biggest requirements of TPAI is how well you write your lesson plans and carry them out,” said Clopton. “A lot of new teachers didn’t have a clue as to how to write lesson plans the way TPAI required. You had to make sure your objectives were clearly stated. That’s one thing we were very well prepared for because of Ms. Underwood. And, we learned this before TPAI was created.”

Underwood also taught her students that even though they’ve got a lesson plan for each day, it’s OK to divert from it and connect with current events. 

“Sometimes my students will come to me and say, ‘We just talked about that in history the other day,’” said Clopton. “So I’ll help them make this connection and bring these life experiences into the classroom.” 

Clopton still keeps and values her lesson plans with Underwood’s critiques on them. She referred to them during her first few years of teaching and holds onto them now for sentimental reasons. 

“Ms. Underwood did more than just teach a subject,” said Clopton. “She just always stayed connected as to what her students were going to be walking into their first year of teaching. And that benefited us greatly.”

Underwood passed away in July 2016. After her funeral, attendees gathered to take a moment and say what she had meant to them. 

“It was amazing,” said Clopton. “The huge response and outpouring of love and gratitude for Miss Underwood speaks volumes as to all that her life meant to so many.”

Today, Bearden and Clopton are keeping the Underwood’s memory thriving for those who knew her and for those who didn’t with the Lucy Lynn Underwood Endowed Music Scholarship. 

Shortly after Underwood’s funeral, Bearden and Clopton made a pact to raise $10,000 for the scholarship—the minimum required. In September 2016, approximately 148 letters were mailed to alumnae informing them of the scholarship and asking for their support. By November 2016, $7,300 was raised. By January 2018, the goal of $10,000 was exceeded. 

“I’ve done this because of my immense gratitude for Lucy’s life, the way she lived it and what she gave to others,” said Bearden. “I want to honor her. It’s a testament to Lucy.”

Is there someone significant in your life whom you’d like to honor with an endowed scholarship? Contact Dan Lavery at 478.445.1236 or dan.lavery@gcsu.edu to learn how.

 

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