‘The kids are awesome’

Ashburton College teacher Dave Christensen may be retiring, but not fully, just yet, he’s planning to “ease out”.
Photo Sue Newman


Ashburton College’s Mr Volleyball, phys ed teacher Dave Christensen, is calling time on a teaching career that spans five years at Cashmere High, six years at Greymouth High and finally 32 years at Ashburton College. He talks to reporter Sue Newman about a career he’s loved from day one. 


Dave Christensen says he’s getting out of teaching while he still loves the job.

“I’ve watched teachers stay on until they’re grumpy; I don’t want to be one of those; I want to get out and enjoy my Gold Card,” he said.

He arrived at Ashburton College in 1986 intending to stay for a couple of years and then look for a teaching position in Christchurch.

What Dave and wife Karen hadn’t counted on was falling in love with Ashburton.

He was one of the last teachers to confirm his position by telegram – a terse ‘pleased to accept the position’ and since his arrival Dave has made the college’s phys ed and health department his own.

While he had always been sports mad, Dave’s original plan was to study engineering, but at the 11th hour decided he’d be true to his two passions, sport and music. One became a career, the other continues to be a hobby.

He was one of 60 in his intake of phys ed students.

With his degree in his back pocket and teacher training completed, Dave took up his first teaching position at Cashmere High.

That was in 1975 and was followed by a six-year stint at Greymouth High.

Back then phys ed was compulsory until Year 11 but it was not an assessment subject.

Dave’s graduating group were the ones who were determined to see this change.

“We were quite keen to introduce something so I encouraged my boss at Cashmere to start a sixth form certificate course,” he said.

And as Dave moved from school to school so too did the recognition of phys ed as an ‘exam’ subject.

“When I came here there was a sixth form certificate course, the new gym had just opened. It was heaven for a phys ed teacher going from Greymouth to this flash gym.”

At Greymouth he’d been working across all sports and while he welcomed the opportunity to carve out his own niche at college, after six years of being excessively busy, specialisation was initially a bit boring, Dave said.

He went looking for opportunities.

“I picked up volleyball and got that humming along and I was a keen footballer so I got involved there and coached the girls’ team and when Simon (his son) was playing I coached his football team too.”

Like many teachers he’s been as involved with students outside of school hours as within.

“That extra-curricular stuff you do willingly.

“It’s wonderful, you see the kids at their best. I really enjoy teenagers.

“Yes there are days when they are challenging but that’s part of the job, getting alongside kids who are challenged by life.”

Over his 32 years at the college Dave has watched the phys ed department grow.

And he’s watched the subject change in terms of the impact of health and safety regulations on risk management.

“Now you need eyes in the back of your head.

“Every other subject has kids sitting all the time, mine are moving all the time.”

In addition to his teaching role, Dave is Year 9 dean and said the rewards are immense when you’re getting alongside and counselling kids who have issues, he said.

“Often it’s social support they need that’s disguising itself as academic need.

“You often find if a kid is troubled they’re troubled everywhere.”

And that often means talking with parents.

“Generally they’re pretty appreciative.

“They thank us for taking the time and making the call. It’s often a home and school collective effort that gets students back on track.”

As dean of Year 9, Dave has the extra challenge of helping almost 300 youngsters adapt to school life where they move classroom and change teacher every hour.

Over the years he’s been tempted to apply for the odd job or two, but decided as a family they were so settled, the idea of moving quickly lost its appeal.

“And I never really worried about the money, that’s not what drives me.”

After chalking up 32 years at Ashburton College, and officially logging on as a retiree, Dave admits he won’t be leaving the campus completely.

“I’ll be back as a reliever for phys ed but the plan is to step back and to give myself the option of working or not. You have to ease out.”

He’s also already signed on for next year’s leadership camp, saying he loves the camping component of outdoor education.

And he’s thrown his hat in the ring to come back and help out with ski trips.

“It’s still really business as usual until after leadership camp, I look forward to that every year.

“The kids are awesome.”

His goal was to continue teaching phys ed until he was 60. He’s now 66.

“I couldn’t retire, I was having too much fun. I look back and know I’ve really enjoyed teaching, I’d recommend it to anyone,” he said.

He’s worked for five principals – Owen McDowell, Digby Prosser, Steve Lewis, Grant McMillan and currently Ross Preece.

As he officially becomes a retiree, Dave says he looks at the college and is confident it’s in good hands.

“We now have a really enthusiastic, young staff and they’re doing a great job.

“The college is ticking over nicely.”

His retirement plans are simple – lots more skiing in the winter and surfing in the summer and he’ll still be very much part of the college community.

After 32 years in one school your friends and your work colleagues become one and the same.