LEXINGTON – When she was four years old, Diana Underwood was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up.
A teacher, she said.
“Somewhere along the way I got the same passion my mother and grandmother had,” Underwood said about continuing the strong teaching tradition her family has had. “I was the oldest child, I babysat by the time I was 12. I was always around and have taken care of them.”
Underwood, who has taught all 34 of her teaching years in Lexington Public Schools
She currently serves as a guidance counselor at Lexington Middle School.
Her retirement at the end of the academic year in May will allow her to tackle some pending projects she’s had her eye on, she said.
“There are some trips I plan to take,” Underwood said about some post-retirement activities on her to-do list. “I inherited a tub of family pictures and my goal is to make books out of them for a fall project.”
Although it may seem Underwood becoming a teacher was a natural choice, her path toward becoming a teacher was a gradual one.
She first moved to Lexington in 1976 and began working as a social worker.
During that time Underwood helped launch the Parent-Child Center after hearing about the needs of local families.
Her next job opportunity came when she helped run a daycare center after already having obtained an early childhood endorsement, which allowed her to teach babies and toddlers.
After teaching homebound infants with disabilities she began teaching kindergarten at Morton then later at Bryan while also teaching at Lexington High School.
Underwood admitted her original plan when she moved to Lexington was to only stay for a couple of years, but the town grew on her.
“I came here for only a couple of years but I stayed in this town because people care about kids,” she said.
Her latest career step came after being inspired with her work with high school students.
“After teaching at the high school, I decided I wanted a degree in counseling,” Underwood said, leading her to her current position.
After teaching third, fifth and sixth grades at Bryan Elementary, Underwood moved to Lexington Middle School to teach sixth grade, where she still works.
Underwood said her mother, a former teacher, was a life-long inspiration for her.
“My mother only taught one year,” she said. “In the 1950s pregnant women didn’t teach. She was a teacher to us our whole lives. She made our life into lessons just like she was a teacher.”
The age at which students begin school and their preparedness for it are a few things that have changed since she started teaching, Underwood said.
“When I first started teaching, the trend was for kindergarteners to come to school at six. They were more mature and ready to put sounds together and read,” Underwood said noting now children enter kindergarten at ages four or five, and tend not to have as much social skills.
“Teaching has changed. Kids are younger and have more to learn,” she said about the current trends at the kindergarten level.
Underwood advised younger teacher to have lots of stamina and maintain a positive attitude.
“They need to have lots of energy. We (teachers) get energy from seeing kids get excited about learning,” she said. “Be positive. Always look at the world as a glass half full.”
One of the most rewarding parts of her job was hearing from former students who remember having her as a teacher and thank her for making a difference in their lives, she said.
“After announcing my retirement, I immediately got emails from young adults congratulating me, thanking me,” for being their teacher, Underwood said.
“One student said, ‘You always believed in me…my life is good,’” Underwood said noting the student had had problems growing up but is now a successful father.
“Lexington has been a real gift in my life,” Underwood said. “I’m grateful.”