Two wrong reasons to be a lecturer

Alwyn Lau
Alwyn Lau

SEPTEMBER 9 — Recently, a friend of mine (with about 20 years’ experience in banks) told me he wanted to quit and join one of the local private colleges as a lecturer.

When I asked him why, he said that after spending so long in the “corporate world” he feels he wants to help the younger generation and give back to society.

You’d be surprised how many experienced professionals (and even fresh grads) decide to join the education sector with those two reasons in mind.

Without at all doubting my friend’s sincerity, you can take it from me (who has about 20 years’ experience in education) that those two reasons won’t sustain a would-be lecturer much.

So here’s my attempt at “debunking” those two (wrong) reasons to be a lecturer:

#1: ‘I want to transform the younger generation via education’

Honestly? Leave that to folks like Maszlee Malik, TED Talk speakers, movies like Dead Poets’ Society and the average non-fiction “insight porn” best-seller.

The only thing students want from their lectures are the specific chapters they need to memorise study for the exams.

They would also prefer that you don’t bore them to an early death by going on and on about how “amazing” a certain topic is: Always remember that what excites you about, say, macro-economics may simply not be something which pushes the buttons of young people one and a half generations below yours.

What this entails is that you gotta spend time — lots and lots of time — exploring the worlds of the students you teach (even more so if you’re pushing 40 and your class’ average age is half that, just saying).

Use their world as a bridge into yours. This might require you to listen to music you find weird but that guy in front seems to lose himself in.

Or you may have to download TikTok and embarrass yourself with a video during class. Or maybe even take up FortNite so you convince the gamer gang at the back that you can learn, too.

Transform the younger generation? Tak payah lah. Just make one or two of them beam with enthusiasm during each class.

#2: ‘I want to give back to society’

As per above, the only thing students want you to give is the exam portion (and, hopefully, the answers, too).

Like most other fields, a realistic perspective of education requires us to lose its “altruistic” cum inspirational cum transcendent component and just see it for the sheer mechanical functionality and purposiveness it gives to society.

Look, education is essentially one grand cog in the machine of capitalism; it trains future workers to function productively in order that society can survive and thrive.

That’s the naked truth of it. It’s also the reason why business courses lead the market and why philosophy courses don’t even exist.

If you can accept the naked stupidity of this truth, only then can you laugh at it and, maybe, transform it.

There is nothing more awkward than a lecturer going into a classroom acting like he’s the next Randy Pausch. Not if he has to teach for 14 weeks in a semester.

Because after you’re made to do all the work a lecturer has to do, I can assure you that “giving back to society” will have different connotations for you.

Oh, you’re not sure what duties a lecturer has? Let me break it down for you. A full-time lecturer generally has to:

  • Prepare the lesson plans for all classes according to the approved learning objectives of the course (you’re welcome to use the boring-ass slides of the previous lecturer but if you fail to grab your students’ attention it’s on you)
  • Mark attendance and report students who are absent (good luck)
  • Counsel or tutor students who need post-class assistance (goodbye “personal time”)
  • Prepare two sets of exam questions and answers for each official assessment (where you realise that creativity really doesn’t pay)
  • Vet the exam questions set by other lecturers (be gentle)
  • Prepare exam reports (and God help you if more than half your class fails)
  • Fill up whatever hundred forms are required to be filled up by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA), which is like Bank Negara for the education sector
  • Everything and anything else your department requires of you (which may include, but is not limited to attending education fairs, being the teacher-counsellor for student clubs, attending meetings which have nothing to do with you, organizing conferences, etc.)

If you’re still standing up and beaming with joy in your classes and giving 120 per cent to your students after all the above, you can be assured your students will be the first to notice.

And not just notice but perhaps — like what Thanos said to Tony Stark before he was about to kill him, “I hope they remember you.”

For many lecturers, that’s kinda what matters. In the end.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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