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A role model for trainee teachers




3-4-1921 20-9-2011


NORM Chirgwin, who played a leading role in the education of trainee teachers as head of the education faculty at Melbourne Teachers' College and its successor organisations following amalgamations, has died at an aged care facility in Anglesea. He was 90.

He was appointed MTC's head of the faculty in 1967 at a time when it had only eight members. As the demand for teachers grew, the number in the faculty increased to 21 when amalgamation with the Secondary Teachers' College in 1972-73 led to the creation of the Melbourne College of Advanced Education, bringing added pressures and responsibilities.

This was followed by transitions to the State College of Victoria at Melbourne (1974), Melbourne State College (1975-1982) and Melbourne College of Advanced Education (1983-1988). Management of the primary teachers' education course throughout his complex 17-year period at the helm continued to be Norm's responsibility until he retired in 1984.

His passion and commitment to the education of young people, which stemmed from his own experiences, was infectious. Hundreds of young teachers who graduated from the college in those years were inspired by dedicated staff led by Norm in turn, their enthusiasm and passion spread to schools across Victoria.

Norm, one of 13 children born in Northcote to Daisy and James Chirgwin, a railway labourer, was raised in Depression-era Preston.

His father and two brothers died when he was a young child, and his nine surviving sisters decided that despite the hardships of that era, Norm he had another surviving brother at the time would be the one among them to have an education. Through their sacrifice in managing the family home and with their encouragement and support, Norm was educated at Preston Primary School and then Coburg High School, where he was regarded as a good footballer.

He never forgot his humble beginnings and always thought of himself as a battler, but went on to earn three academic degrees. He trained as a teacher at MTC and like so many of his generation, had his life disrupted by World War II.

Norm found himself in uniform and severed in northern Australia before being posted to Japan with the occupation forces.

His posting to Japan in 1946 came two days after he married Joy Johnson. Their's had been a whirlwind romance married nine weeks after meeting on the dance floor. He was at Camp Pell, the military training camp at Royal Park, where Joy was involved in organising social activities.

After his discharge, he taught at primary schools at Westgarth, North West Brunswick and Kingsville West he found time to complete a bachelor of commerce, followed by a bachelor of education and a bachelor of arts, all at Melbourne University.

In 1956, he was appointed a lecturer in education at MTC at a time when education was expanding rapidly as baby boomers moved through primary and secondary school where he was a popular, hard-working member of staff with a wide range of responsibilities. His teaching areas included educational psychology, teaching theory and practice, classroom management and curriculum development.

Norm nurtured and encouraged the growth of his students' teaching skills, and by the time he was appointed dean of the faculty in 1967, he had become a role model. He was also known for his firm but democratic and inclusive leadership style.

Under Norm's leadership, planning for a new teacher education program Procedures and Practices of Teaching was developed as part of a new three-year course for primary teachers. This replaced the two-year Trained Primary Teacher's certificate. It was an exciting era in teacher education in Victoria as a closer working relationship was developed with training schools throughout the state.

A number of Norm's sisters lived to see the fruits of their sacrifices in his career, and their quiet pride was obvious.

Throughout his working life and into retirement Norm was proud of his working-class roots. He valued his membership of the Victorian Teachers Union and was an active member of the Australian Labor Party. Widely read, he not only identified with and promoted Labor's social justice policies but enjoyed the friendships he made with his local branch members, and the social occasions they shared, which were a significant part of his life.

Norm's life was badly affected by a car accident the day after the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games he spent three months in intensive care at The Alfred hospital, and then Epworth Hospital.

Norm's wife of 64 years, Joy, died in 2009, and he is survived by his children Robyn and Neil, four grandchildren, and a great-grandchild.

John Mitchell, a colleague, helped in preparing this tribute.

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