Robert Armando Anderson, 44, thought analytically about the world around him even when he was a child, so much so that while growing up in Compton, his nickname was “Professor Bob.”
As if fulfilling a prophecy, the California State University, Dominguez Hills alumnus (Class of ’96, B.A., sociology/minor in public administration; ’99, M.A., sociology) has enjoyed a 16-year career at Colin P. Kelly Elementary School in Compton, first teaching second grade and then fifth grade and, in between, serving for three years as a curriculum specialist resource teacher, training new teachers and coordinating testing programs. He also teaches evening and weekend sociology and general education courses at University of Phoenix (UoP) at several campuses throughout Southern California.
“Teaching aligns with my passion. It’s what I do–I teach,” Anderson said. “I share academic knowledge and life knowledge with my students.”
While in the master’s program at CSU Dominguez Hills, the first-generation college graduate began teaching with an emergency credential. He went on to earn a multiple-subject teaching credential from National University and also higher certification as a national board certified teacher. He has also sought ways to become more influential outside of the classroom as an educator.
In 2010, Anderson was recognized with UoP’s Faculty Excellence Award and was an invited speaker for Education Nation, NBC’s ongoing televised town hall series, during which he discussed “myopic focus on test scores as a sole measure of student achievement.” He is currently being considered for participation in the Department of Education’s Classroom Fellowship program.
“I want to speak and share my ideas and my concerns about public education. I want to be part of the national dialog,” he said of his advocacy.
However, despite his childhood moniker, Anderson didn’t always know his passion was in education.
As a student in the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program while at Morningside High School in Inglewood, Anderson had his sights set on college and then a career in a financial field, because he thought that would be a good way to make a lot of money.
So, he began his college education as an economics major at the University of California, Los Angeles, but by his sophomore year he knew economics wasn’t for him. The one problem was that he didn’t know exactly what was for him.
“I knew I enjoyed teaching, but teaching … was far from what I wanted to go into because of the lack of prestige and because teachers don’t make a lot of money,” Anderson recalled of his initial views of the profession. “To say that I’m studying to be a teacher, in my shallow mindset at the time, just wasn’t good enough.”
Maturing as well as taking a course in social work at UCLA would change his opinion, allow him to follow his heart, open up his world, and ultimately the world of countless students.
“What we’re talking about in this course is what I’m talking about all the time,” Anderson recalled. “It was a course in social problems, so we’re talking about the plight of the African American male growing up in Compton, the proliferation of drugs, gang violence, police profiling, all of those things. This is what [I have knowledge of] and to study something that I [can] talk about … is more in line with what my interests are.”
At a crossroads and frustrated with the long commute and housing challenges, Anderson left UCLA. To buy himself some time to figure out his next steps, he enrolled at Cerritos College to complete his general education requirements. In 1993, he transferred to CSU, Dominguez Hills to study sociology.
In evidence of Anderson finding his groove, he was selected by members of the university’s faculty as the outstanding sociology student for his graduating class–but only after hitting some rough patches. Professors emeritus of sociology Faye Arnold and the late Herman Loether would intervene.
“I wasn’t reaching my full potential as a student. Dr. Loether and Dr. Arnold, they were hard on me,” Anderson remembered in appreciation. “Dr. Loether would make subtle comments that really boosted my confidence. This is the guy who wrote the statistics book who is complimenting me!”
Empowered by his professors’ encouragement, Anderson refocused his efforts on his studies, and went on to improve his grades, making straight A’s as a master’s student.
“My master’s program I credit with helping me to build my confidence as a speaker because we were having discussions and analyzing social theory. I had to share my thoughts based on evidence. My thoughts were challenged. Because of that, I feel more confident in my ability to share my thoughts,” Anderson asserted.
Anderson also expresses his thoughts through poetry, songwriting and singing. Overcoming extreme shyness, he went from singing into his pillow to performing, including at the CSU Dominguez Hills College of Education Credential Ceremony this past May and, as he comes full circle, on a regular basis at the Gate restaurant in Encino.
“I was a GATE student and now I’m singing at the Gate!” Anderson mused.
Although Anderson, who lives in Pomona with his wife, Ayanna, and their two young children, aspires to be a famous professional singer someday, he doesn’t see himself ever abandoning education.
“Me having a greater voice because of my exposure as a singer would give me a greater platform to talk about public education,” he attested.