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Passing on a passion for teaching

Volume 11 Number 6 June 8 - July 13 2015

Melbourne graduate and student Christopher Weinberg reflects on a visit from a former professor of his, economist Neville Norman, to his current assignment at Portland Secondary College.

One of the great joys that comes from teaching is the chance to share your passions with your students. While I’ve only taught for 18 months as an Associate of Teach For Australia, I’ve already had many such moments, where my passions have been absorbed and championed by my students.

This is no more evident than in my Year 12 Economics class at Portland Secondary College, in southwest Victoria. Throughout the year, I’ve been consistently energised and inspired by their enthusiasm for the study of economics and its impact on our everyday lives.

Whilst my personal passion for economics stemmed from the turbulent times of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 when I was in Year 11, it was only in studying a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Melbourne that I realised it was going to be an essential part of my working life.

For this I unashamedly hail Associate Professor Neville Norman as a personal academic hero. His unyielding enthusiasm for economics and its influence on public policy was an inspiration to me as I completed my Honours year under his guidance in 2013. Beyond his mastery of the discipline is his immense willingness to educate the next generation of economists at all levels of schooling.

With this in mind, I invited Associate Professor Norman to speak with my Year 12 Economics class about the 2015 Federal Budget and its implications for the Australian economy.

In an incredible display of generosity he offered to make the five-hour drive (with wife Margaret) to personally deliver an interactive workshop with my class a week after Treasurer Joe Hockey’s Budget speech.

Our humble classroom turned into a university tute-room one day in May as Neville took the floor for a two-hour economics masterclass. The workshop began with a brief discussion of the complexities that come with government decision-making, but typical lecture this was not.

Associate Professor Norman put the students in Joe Hockey’s shoes forcing two teams to balance the budget either solely via tax increases or spending cuts. This experience was particularly revelatory for the students as it showed them how difficult it is to manage the nation’s finances. For student Jake Edwards, this exercise helped him understand the “foundations of the Federal Budget and the intricate factors that determine the various policies implemented by the government.”

Following his inquiries of the students and their policy proposals (which certainly put them under some pressure, just like the politicians), the workshop moved into a discussion of the conflicting nature of the last two Budgets and what it says about the current state of Australian policymaking.

As the students were guided through a series of graphs and tables underlying the deep fiscal challenge facing Australia, student Annique Ray said she appreciated how decisions made “10 years ago were still affecting our economy today” and how Budget 2015 was more politically than economically motivated.

As the workshop concluded, Associate Professor Norman and I shared the floor co-analysing the key policies and their potential impacts on the economy; a key element of the VCE final exam in November. This was a particularly moving moment for me, considering that just two years before I was being taught by this legend of the University of Melbourne and now I was teaching alongside him for a group of my own students.

Never did I think this would’ve been my pathway after university, but that’s what a great teacher does for their students – open up new possibilities and opportunities otherwise unforseen.

Irrespective of what my students do with their lives after high school, I’m confident that their time with the inimitable Neville Norman was a unique experience that will remain with them for years to come.
Christopher Weinberg is in his second year of teaching Economics and Mathematics at Portland Secondary College, in south-west Victoria, as part of the Teach For Australia program. He is completing the Postgraduate Diploma in Teaching through the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. Before teaching, Mr Weinberg completed a Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) in Economics at the University of Melbourne from 2010 to 2013.