End of an era

Principal of Awapuni School to retire after 27 years.

Principal of Awapuni School to retire after 27 years.

David Langford never set out to become a teacher but it became a life-long calling. After more than four decades in education, the Awapuni School principal retires at the end of the year. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell

After 27 years as principal of Awapuni School, David Langford retires at the end of the year. He talks to Kim Parkinson about his long career in education.

David Langford admits to having mixed feelings about his impending retirement.

He had been putting it off and kept extending his tenure to “one more year”.

“One Sunday a few months ago I wrote a letter of resignation which was quite an emotional thing,” he says.

Above all, Mr Langford loves the children and will miss being part of the Awapuni School community.

“Forming relationships with families and providing supportive learning environments is an honour.”

His first job as principal was at Otoko School, a small rural school where he was sole charge.

“There were 14 students when I started which rose to 32.

“My own kids were there and it was a wonderful place for family alongside an awesome community.”

Mr Langford is a man of great compassion and believes this is an essential quality in great teachers and principals.
“I have cried three times in my career — the first time was when I left Otoko.”

He grew up on a farm in Matawhero and went to school at Awapuni School. It was a different age for the education system.

“Those were the days of corporal punishment and I hated it.”

There were about a hundred pupils back then so it was like a country school in town.”

The teachers were disciplinarians who sought control at all times, with strapping being commonplace, he said.

“As a youngster I thought townies were the pits. I just wanted to be a farmer. My family were farmers — we were mad keen on animals and loved horse-riding as kids. We had a lovely outdoors family life.”

He went to Gisborne Intermediate and Lytton High School and was tempted to leave to become a shepherd like his brother had done at age 15.

“But I got into the school 1st 15 so I stayed.”

He met his now wife Suzi who moved to Gisborne from the United States with her family and enrolled at Lytton High.

“For Suzi it was very natural to go to university but I hadn’t really thought of it. So we both went up to Auckland University.”

“I arrived in Auckland not knowing what to do. I started unsuccessfully doing a BCom — maths, calculus, algebra and some accounting and economics.

“I was a fish out of water. I was naive. There were no horses and no dogs, only concrete and hordes of people.

“It was difficult to get into a good sports team so I couldn’t even do the things I really liked.”

The following year he went to Victoria University to join his cousins in Wellington.
“I lived with my dad’s cousin and they had a son, John Langford, who was a similar age and he was doing law.

“Then I had a cousin on mum’s side, John Clarke (Fred Dagg).”

By then it was the early 1970s and he became involved in the social activism of the time — protesting the Vietnam War. He grew his hair long and started to question authority.

“It was an interesting period where we questioned the government.

“I was studying political science and anthropology and my thinking was shifted.”

“I was learning about other worlds and the idea of diversity in Western civilisation.”

He went travelling through America in 1972-73 with his brother.

“We watched the last moon mission, Apollo 17, in Cape Kennedy, Florida.

“We travelled on the Greyhound bus for months — it was a life-changing experience. We were long-haired hippies.

“The Vietnam war was finishing and Nixon was bringing the troops back. We hung out with people our age who had been to war.”

He hiked the Grand Canyon, visited big cities like Chicago and New York, slept in places for vagrants and had near death experiences.

“We were on a zero budget.”

Another life-changing moment came when David was back at the library at Victoria University researching what he might like to study next and ran into his cousin John Clarke.

“John invited me to come to see the revues he was putting on in the auditorium at the Student Union building — it was the beginning of Fred Dagg. After listening to my predicament he suggested I enrol at teachers’ training college in Karori.

“He said ‘they pay you there’.”

“I couldn’t stand teachers or school but it was handy to where I was staying.”

A turning point was when John pointed out to him that he would never get into training college looking the way he did.
“So I rang up my brother Clyde and borrowed a tweed jacket, moleskin trousers and some lace-up shoes. I got a haircut, went for the interview and got in.”

What started out as an interim measure would turn into a life-long career.

It was after doing a practicum at Newlands Primary School in Wellington that his thinking changed.

“I was allocated an Associate Teacher and spent two weeks in her class.”

He was struck by how pleasant teachers were, how skilful his Associate Teacher was and how lovely the school culture was.

“I’ve never looked back,” he said.

“Every school I taught at was nothing like my childhood experience of school.

“I think education had changed a lot since my last day.

“That rebellious period of the late 60s early 70s was a period of social change.
“It was the beginning of a shift in the 70s where teachers were seen as facilitators of learning not disciplinarians.”

He married his high school sweetheart Suzi while in his final year at training college and took his first job at Te Hapara School.

This was at a time when the Hawke’s Bay Education Board allocated teachers to schools. From there he went to Gisborne Intermediate where he remained for eight years.

He took a break from teaching in the late 1980s and got involved with embryo transplanting of angora goats.

The family went to Canada for a year when David took a teacher exchange job at Richmond Public School in Ottawa. This was the second time in his career he cried.

“I had a farewell and on the drive home I just wept — for 40 minutes. It had been such an amazing time.”

David gets emotional describing the third time he was brought to tears in his long career.

“It was when the school made several notifications to CYFS in one day around child abuse or neglect.”

“I was driving home after a long and difficult day and just started weeping. I thought this job is getting to me but you just love the kids so much.

“I was thinking of the kids — those were tears of compassion. I’d had meeting after meeting and felt so helpless.

“The kids are the best part of this job. People have an idea that kids are bad these days. It’s not true.

“I have more than 40 years’ experience and think kids seemed worse in the early days because we didn’t know how to handle them.

“But teachers I know these days are so capable in handling difficult behaviours in children.
“Sometimes the sheer weight of family troubles, and the reasons for them, is overwhelming so we, as principals, need to hang on to our compassion. We can be the lifeline for families.”

Mr Langford leaves the school in capable hands with his successor Nik House who is coming from Welcome Bay School in Tauranga.

Mr House will be a refreshing change for the school going forward, he said.

“For me coming to school is a thrill — not a burden. No doubt I will have my fourth weeping experience leaving Awapuni for the last time.”

While he is not quite sure what his retirement has in store, with 11 grandchildren, a small rural property to take care of and a few unfinished jobs around the place, chances are it won’t be an idle one.

After 27 years as principal of Awapuni School, David Langford retires at the end of the year. He talks to Kim Parkinson about his long career in education.

David Langford admits to having mixed feelings about his impending retirement.

He had been putting it off and kept extending his tenure to “one more year”.

“One Sunday a few months ago I wrote a letter of resignation which was quite an emotional thing,” he says.

Above all, Mr Langford loves the children and will miss being part of the Awapuni School community.

“Forming relationships with families and providing supportive learning environments is an honour.”

His first job as principal was at Otoko School, a small rural school where he was sole charge.

“There were 14 students when I started which rose to 32.

“My own kids were there and it was a wonderful place for family alongside an awesome community.”

Mr Langford is a man of great compassion and believes this is an essential quality in great teachers and principals.
“I have cried three times in my career — the first time was when I left Otoko.”

He grew up on a farm in Matawhero and went to school at Awapuni School. It was a different age for the education system.

“Those were the days of corporal punishment and I hated it.”

There were about a hundred pupils back then so it was like a country school in town.”

The teachers were disciplinarians who sought control at all times, with strapping being commonplace, he said.

“As a youngster I thought townies were the pits. I just wanted to be a farmer. My family were farmers — we were mad keen on animals and loved horse-riding as kids. We had a lovely outdoors family life.”

He went to Gisborne Intermediate and Lytton High School and was tempted to leave to become a shepherd like his brother had done at age 15.

“But I got into the school 1st 15 so I stayed.”

He met his now wife Suzi who moved to Gisborne from the United States with her family and enrolled at Lytton High.

“For Suzi it was very natural to go to university but I hadn’t really thought of it. So we both went up to Auckland University.”

“I arrived in Auckland not knowing what to do. I started unsuccessfully doing a BCom — maths, calculus, algebra and some accounting and economics.

“I was a fish out of water. I was naive. There were no horses and no dogs, only concrete and hordes of people.

“It was difficult to get into a good sports team so I couldn’t even do the things I really liked.”

The following year he went to Victoria University to join his cousins in Wellington.
“I lived with my dad’s cousin and they had a son, John Langford, who was a similar age and he was doing law.

“Then I had a cousin on mum’s side, John Clarke (Fred Dagg).”

By then it was the early 1970s and he became involved in the social activism of the time — protesting the Vietnam War. He grew his hair long and started to question authority.

“It was an interesting period where we questioned the government.

“I was studying political science and anthropology and my thinking was shifted.”

“I was learning about other worlds and the idea of diversity in Western civilisation.”

He went travelling through America in 1972-73 with his brother.

“We watched the last moon mission, Apollo 17, in Cape Kennedy, Florida.

“We travelled on the Greyhound bus for months — it was a life-changing experience. We were long-haired hippies.

“The Vietnam war was finishing and Nixon was bringing the troops back. We hung out with people our age who had been to war.”

He hiked the Grand Canyon, visited big cities like Chicago and New York, slept in places for vagrants and had near death experiences.

“We were on a zero budget.”

Another life-changing moment came when David was back at the library at Victoria University researching what he might like to study next and ran into his cousin John Clarke.

“John invited me to come to see the revues he was putting on in the auditorium at the Student Union building — it was the beginning of Fred Dagg. After listening to my predicament he suggested I enrol at teachers’ training college in Karori.

“He said ‘they pay you there’.”

“I couldn’t stand teachers or school but it was handy to where I was staying.”

A turning point was when John pointed out to him that he would never get into training college looking the way he did.
“So I rang up my brother Clyde and borrowed a tweed jacket, moleskin trousers and some lace-up shoes. I got a haircut, went for the interview and got in.”

What started out as an interim measure would turn into a life-long career.

It was after doing a practicum at Newlands Primary School in Wellington that his thinking changed.

“I was allocated an Associate Teacher and spent two weeks in her class.”

He was struck by how pleasant teachers were, how skilful his Associate Teacher was and how lovely the school culture was.

“I’ve never looked back,” he said.

“Every school I taught at was nothing like my childhood experience of school.

“I think education had changed a lot since my last day.

“That rebellious period of the late 60s early 70s was a period of social change.
“It was the beginning of a shift in the 70s where teachers were seen as facilitators of learning not disciplinarians.”

He married his high school sweetheart Suzi while in his final year at training college and took his first job at Te Hapara School.

This was at a time when the Hawke’s Bay Education Board allocated teachers to schools. From there he went to Gisborne Intermediate where he remained for eight years.

He took a break from teaching in the late 1980s and got involved with embryo transplanting of angora goats.

The family went to Canada for a year when David took a teacher exchange job at Richmond Public School in Ottawa. This was the second time in his career he cried.

“I had a farewell and on the drive home I just wept — for 40 minutes. It had been such an amazing time.”

David gets emotional describing the third time he was brought to tears in his long career.

“It was when the school made several notifications to CYFS in one day around child abuse or neglect.”

“I was driving home after a long and difficult day and just started weeping. I thought this job is getting to me but you just love the kids so much.

“I was thinking of the kids — those were tears of compassion. I’d had meeting after meeting and felt so helpless.

“The kids are the best part of this job. People have an idea that kids are bad these days. It’s not true.

“I have more than 40 years’ experience and think kids seemed worse in the early days because we didn’t know how to handle them.

“But teachers I know these days are so capable in handling difficult behaviours in children.
“Sometimes the sheer weight of family troubles, and the reasons for them, is overwhelming so we, as principals, need to hang on to our compassion. We can be the lifeline for families.”

Mr Langford leaves the school in capable hands with his successor Nik House who is coming from Welcome Bay School in Tauranga.

Mr House will be a refreshing change for the school going forward, he said.

“For me coming to school is a thrill — not a burden. No doubt I will have my fourth weeping experience leaving Awapuni for the last time.”

While he is not quite sure what his retirement has in store, with 11 grandchildren, a small rural property to take care of and a few unfinished jobs around the place, chances are it won’t be an idle one.

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Jenny Horne - 5 months ago
What a compassionate leader you are David, what a fortunate school and staff. Well done, good and faithful servant!

Arihia Wyllie - 5 months ago
I remember when you came to Awapuni School in 1992. It was my last year (with a bunch of riff raffs too) and you were very different from Mr Preston - not as scary looking! Your sons didn't take long to blend in with everyone. I think we came to Otoko School for school camp the year before too, maybe? I'm sure that year kept you on your toes. My dad thought highly of you. From my family to yours, all the best Mr Langford for whatever life has planned for you xo

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