Why lecturers should be grateful to students

By Dr Kim Huynh

Last year I was nominated by ANU for a national teaching award.

In putting together the application I realised that, over the years, students have taught me far more than I have ever taught them.

Before I elaborate, let's get some lecturer groanings out of the way.

Students, it is sometimes said, are not what they used to be and they were probably never that great.

They have little interest in their studies and the life of the mind.

For them, university is a high-end boarding school and a low-end resort, its primary purpose being to appeal to their privileged sensibilities.

So goes the disaffected lecturer's logic: the more I advance the more distant I become from each student intake.

And I grow weary of explaining the same thing over and over. This inhibits my research, which is the true mark of intellect. Teaching is such a drag.

While I have sometimes thought this way, I remain convinced that teaching - when applied in the right dose and manner - cures the most pressing academic malaises.

Firstly, if our research ever seems esoteric, stale or inconsequential, then teaching can rejuvenate and reconnect it with topical matters and timeless questions.

Often we hear about the efficacy of research-led teaching; however, it is also worth considering the value of teaching-led research.

Good teaching-led research means not only coming up with new findings, but also communicating the importance of those findings to a broad and diverse audience.

Secondly, if as scholars we ever feel inconsequential, then teaching allows us to "leave our mark" and "make a difference".

In fact, engaging with students can be more rewarding than achieving high bibliometric scores and amassing grant money.

There are few more influential and responsibility-laden positions in society than the lecturer.

Politicians wield power, but are beholden to public opinion. Teachers, on the other hand, command the attention of hundreds of people each year and are able to focus that attention on matters of substance for hours at a time.

When scholars retire they commonly dwell not so much on all the articles that they have published, but rather on the undergraduates and postgraduates whom they have guided and shaped.

The lesson in academia, as in life, is that our human relationships count most.