Simon says: don't conform
Published: Thursday, February 27, 2003
Updated: Monday, April 19, 2010 03:04
If you should peer through the morning bustle of the Cosumnes River College cafeteria, perhaps you will spot what appears to be a young man with a shaved head shuffling through stacks of papers piled atop the small table.
If you happen to be an English 1C student attending a 7 a.m. class, he'll recognize you and tell you to pull up a chair. Welcome to the office of English professor Rob Simons.
Being a part-time professor on campus, Simons still holds his office hours in the cafeteria with no complaints.
"I like to blend in with the student body," Simons says. And that he does, being only 28-years-old, and fresh out of graduate school, Simons looks much like a regular student aside from the stacks of graded papers engulfing his table.
He actually admits being hired to teach at CRC was a "fluke."
An emergency hire for the Fall 2002 semester, CRC was his first teaching job. However, within the first week, he claims he was "blown away" by the experience and settled right in with the student body.
"I like him, he's straightforward and blunt...he's real," said student Akmal Niezi.
Simons, who currently lives in Oakland, makes the commute from the bay the night before each class, sleeping over at a relative's house in Greenhaven in order to make it to class on time.
A May 2002 graduate of the California College of Arts and Crafts, Simons was part of an experimental writing school, which strayed from a traditional literature-based program, branching into internet, video, film and visual terrain, fusing the visual and written into one.
This is reflected in Simons' use of stories, clips and avant-garde films such as Stanley Kubrick's film "Dr. Strangelove" on his syllabus.
"CRC allows me the freedom to incorporate that kind of artistic background into my lectures and discussions," says Simons.
Simons started out just as many do, having a tough time through high school until college turned him towards the "life of the mind."
This intellectual self-discovery turns up in Simons' own teachings.
"A lot of kids coming fresh out of high school are not sold on the idea that their own personal history and story has a unique value, regardless of surface sophistication," said Simons. "Everyone has a unique angle, voice and story."
He is enthusiastic about helping students find this confidence in order to develop and support their own interpretations of the material.
He shuns the concept of a set syllabus and textbook-taught class. Simons constantly adjusts his syllabus to accommodate material he feels will be useful, thus keeping his students on their toes.
As for textbooks, he views textbooks as anthologies with the motivation to be as politically correct as possible. He tries to veer toward more "unfiltered" material.
Aware that students can feed off a teacher's enthusiasm, he plans to change selections each semester.
"I owe it to my students not to be comatose or on auto-pilot and to be passionate about the readings, using new and different books each semester," he said.
Simons also supports himself financially by writing novels and screenplays, even helping German new-wave filmmaker Werner Herzog (wernerherzog.com) write his first all-English screenplay. Simons also creates his own short films and dark collections of short stories which expose what Simons calls "the underbelly of the collapse of the American dream."
Simons continues to push the limits of the learning experience, encouraging students to "think outside the box"because as Simons claims,
"Conformity is the worst thing college students can adhere to."