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  • Nathan McLean


This week I officially enrolled in the Master of Teaching program at Sydney Uni. This might not sound like a big deal, but after the bureaucratic death loop I had to overcome, the mere process of signing onto the system and enrolling in subjects feels like a massive victory. Reflecting back, this whole quagmire of red tape started in 2001, when my 4U math teacher suggested I study actuarial studies (which he himself had done before becoming a teacher). I was assured that an actuarial studies degree would be great for someone who liked maths, and it would be a ticket to riches (which at the time seemed compelling). In hindsight, neither of these proved to be true.

Fast forward a few decades, and after concluding that chasing endless wealth was not my cup of tea, I decided to become a math teacher. With the demand for math teachers outstripping supply in NSW, my assumption was that I would have no trouble getting accepted into a program, especially given my actuarial background. How wrong I was! The first red flag popped up as I was reading through the Sydney Uni application guidelines, which for math teaching required a "pure or applied" mathematics undergraduate degree. I figured that actuarial studies would be treated as applied maths, but in the back of my mind I started to wonder, especially since Sydney Uni doesn't have an actuarial program (so perhaps the bureaucrats there would not really know what it was about). I figured common sense would prevail, so filled out the forms and submitted my application. After hearing nothing for a while, I thought perhaps it would be wise to hedge my bets and apply at other universities.

I went to the UNSW website and submitted an application, my logic being that UNSW had an actuarial program, so surely they would appreciate its mathematical makeup. Once again, I was wrong. UNSW promptly informed me that my application was unsuccessful as I did not satisfy the prerequisites. Now alarm bells were really going off! I proceeded to apply at every university I could think of, including my alma mater. Surely Macquarie Uni would appreciate the mathematical nature of their own actuarial studies program! But no, they also promptly informed me that actuarial studies was not sufficient to qualify as a math teacher. Ouch! So it was back to Sydney Uni, which was now my last hope. I attended a Zoom meeting for enthusiastic applicants, and thankfully one of the attendees was the person responsible for processing my application. I sent her a direct message explaining my predicament, and crossed my fingers, hoping that once people understood my background, they would see that I'm well suited to teach high school maths.

A few days later, I received an email confirming that in the eyes of Sydney Uni, I was indeed not eligible to have maths as my teaching area. I was offered legal studies (thanks to my law degree), commerce (since actuarial studies sits under the commerce umbrella) and geography (which seemed quite random since I did not study this at high school or university). When I emphasised my desire to teach math, they suggested I contact NESA (the statutory authority for education in NSW). NESA proceeded to forward me on to their key contact at Sydney Uni, who happened to literally sit next to the lady I had been dealing with. Talk about going around in circles! He advised that actuarial studies was not maths, even though I took subjects with course names like Advanced Mathematics, Financial Mathematics, Mathematics of Risk, Combinatorial Probability, Quantitative Modelling, and so on. I was assured these subjects were about statistics, and statistics is not maths. Go figure.

Then a potential pathway appeared. I was told that if I could manage to enrol in a bridging subject over the summer, and was willing to do another bridging subject during my first semester, then I could just scrape through to be eligible. Finally some hope! I got to Googling and found two universities that offered summer courses, Curtin Uni (in Western Australia) and none other than Sydney Uni itself! I promptly applied for both, but hit more red tape. Curtin Uni needed me to prove that I did high school maths at an advanced enough level to qualify for their subject. Ironically when I looked at the topics covered, they were things I had already learned (but alas, I needed to tick their boxes). Being in Western Australia, they have a different high school system, so I had to source a copy of the HSC curriculum and convince the professor that Extension 2 maths is the highest level you can take in NSW (and that my Band E4 was the highest band you can achieve). I eventually got his approval in email form, but then the people at Open Universities Australia couldn't process an email approval, and needed it officially done in their system (something the professor did not know how to do). After many phone calls with call centre operators at both Curtin Uni and Open Universities Australia, I was still not getting anywhere. Hopefully I would have better luck with the bridging course at Sydney Uni. I hadn't yet received any response from them, and when I contacted the Sydney Uni call centre, I was advised that I had to wait a week before following up further.

Then out of nowhere, my luck completely changed! I received an email from the administration lady at Sydney Uni confirming they had changed their mind, and actuarial studies subjects did indeed have enough math content for me to qualify! Albeit I also had to sign up to teaching commerce as well, but as long as I'd be eligible to teach math, that was good enough for me! So I finally got there. After three months of application forms, call centre conversations and prerequisite wrangling, common sense prevailed in the end. Tick, boom!