Sitting in a cramped, dimly lit office with two grand tattoo pieces peeking out of his sleeves and several gauged ear piercings, Shane Underwood looks like he could be anybody waiting around for someone.

He slumps back in his chair, slinging one leg over the other and laughs. “I get this a lot,” he said. “People think I’m in a band, or a bartender or you name it. ‘Who’s this creepy guy? Get him out of here!’”

Mary Nurrenbern/Courier Shane Underwood, english instructor holds a discussion on romanticism and post modernism with his English 1A class on Oct 28, 2013 in room R402 at PCC. Underwood won the teacher of the award for 2013.
Mary Nurrenbern/Courier
Shane Underwood, English instructor, discusses romanticism and postmodernism with his English 1A class on Oct. 28 in room R402.

At 33 years old, dressed in a t-shirt and worn-out jeans, Underwood doesn’t look like your typical college professor.

“A lot of my colleagues think I’m a student and I always play along… My colleagues tease me and ask if my suit is at the cleaners. They crack jokes all the time and I think it’s amusing, ” he said.

“But what does a professor look like? What does a mentor look like?” he asked, a more serious tone creeping into his voice.

“It’s kind of funny that we come to this place to have our minds opened and elevated, yet we expect that professors have a certain appearance… That’s part of my approach to teaching—breaking down these very socially constructed, sort of narrativized truths,” he said.

Underwood’s methods of teaching may be somewhat unconventional, but they resonate deeply with his students and he won the 2013 Risser Outstanding Teacher Award for his work in the English Division in June.

“It was cool to be honored… That thing brings some strange attention. It’s kind of weird,” he said of his award.

Though he doesn’t like to draw much attention to the award, Underwood’s students have described him as “inspirational, remarkable and absolutely brilliant” and say that he is very attentive and that he obviously cares about his students.

“His teaching style is one I’ve never experienced. He’s loud and he gets right in your face. He expects us to grow and his class isn’t all based on the grade he gives. He wants us to be able to fix our issues and become better writers,” said Ashley Lopez, nursing.

One of the things Underwood does to help his students learn to write under pressure is give them timed writing assignments, then makes all sorts of noises and distractions as the students try to write.

“He distracted the living daylights out of us. He was playing with the lights and he played really loud music from all different genres… It worked out, though. Even though we all hated it, he did a really good job at getting us to focus on the prompt,” Lopez said.

The lesson that every human being has choices about the way they live their lives and that these choices help determine their realities is one that Carlos Gonzalez, biochemistry, will always remember.

“I think that’s very important and if you get that idea you’re starting to construct your reality. He’s a brilliant teacher and his ideas are really interesting,” Gonzalez said.

For Underwood, the greatest pleasure is seeing his students be moved, build confidence, become more content in their own lives and “confront the alien”, by which he means breaking away from that which is familiar and confronting what is alien to us instead of avoiding it out of fear or uncertainty.

As much as he loves his job, Underwood didn’t always want to be a teacher and has come a long way from being the sullen teenaged boy who grew up in Denver, Colorado.

“During my teenage years my life became very tumultuous as a result of my home life. My main mission was to be gone, to be invisible,” Underwood said.

Before he was kicked out of high school when he was 17 years old, Underwood attended a parent-teacher conference where his English teacher, Jack Moninger, asked his mother for permission to speak to Underwood frankly.

“He looked my way and he said, ‘Shane, what the fuck is your problem? You have so much potential but you waste it.’ I never had a lot of people credit me with having the potential to do anything… He made me think I could be a better human than I was, and that was it,” Underwood said.

“I thought that as a teacher I could have that same effect on people who needed a kick in the ass or a little motivation or just someone to believe in them. That’s what made me desirous of becoming an educator,” he said.

After getting his GED, Underwood moved to California with $200 in his pocket, a suitcase full of clothing and a little box of memorabilia. He attended community college in Santa Cruz, then transferred to California State University Northridge where he finished his bachelor’s degree in English before pursuing two master’s degrees focusing on rhetoric and hermeneutics.

When he’s not busy molding minds, Underwood likes hanging out with his dog, Mr. Smith, playing disc golf and disappearing on road trips and camping trips. He is also a big fan of craft beers and beer tasting.

“I’m from the Rocky Mountains, so I spend a lot of time in mountains. It’s where I feel content. I like to fly fish, I like hiking and I did a lot of rafting and zip lining this summer,” he said.

However, summers don’t last forever and Underwood can’t spend all his time getting lost among the trees and sipping beers, but that’s not something that ever worries him. “I love coming to work. I love my job. I love my officemate. I love my students. I love the material that I teach. I’m just very satisfied and happy all around,” he said.

“This doesn’t feel like a job, it feels like what I ought to do. It’s just about doing what’s right. It’s about spending my day and my night and my weekend and every second during the semester just growing as an individual and also contributing to the growth of so many people,” Underwood said.


2 Replies to “Instructor’s award-winning methods are unconventional”

  1. That is such a ridiculous statement to make. You sound like a bitter student who failed his class, never got attention in school and made yourself look like an ass in his class. Don’t go around making ludicrous statements that can potentially ruin someone’s career and life altogether. Not very mature.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.