"It was a way to get out of class."
Going to listen to a talk about career options when he was a senior student at Hāwera High School simply meant time out of lessons, says Chris Linders.
While his then-teenaged self thought that was a great idea, ironically, the decision directly led to Chris spending nearly 30 years of his adult life back in class.
"They had various people come and talk to us senior students about career options, the army, various universities, things like that. I originally put my name down as a way to get out of class. Then a few weeks later I had a short interview and was offered a place at teaching college."
Chris accepted the offer and trained as a teacher at Palmerston North teaching college, going on to teach in five schools over the next 29 years, with his most recent role as principal at St Joseph's Stratford since 2015.
Chris says he had always loved school, right from his first days as a new entrant at St Joseph's in Hāwera.
"I've always loved learning, and that hasn't changed, even as an adult."
Part of learning is being open to taking on new challenges, and as term three came to an end last week, Chris left school for the last time, ready to take on a new challenge, and a new career.
Chris has taken on a new role as senior adviser community readiness and recovery (Taranaki) for the newly created Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ), a job he says fits in with his love of service and community.
"Ever since I was young, as a cub and then scouts, I have seen value in helping the community, in living a life of service, and that is what teaching has always been. This new role is another way to serve."
While the role is new, Chris has a long-standing connection to the fire service, having served as a volunteer firefighter for over a decade now.
"I started with the fire brigade when I was teaching at Ngaere School, and it is something I have always enjoyed. When this new role came up, they were looking for someone with experience in teaching and mentoring and it felt like the right fit for me at the right time in life."
Chris says his youngest son's school journey is also coming to an end, as he finishes his year 13 studies and prepares for university.
"Kay's and my three children have all moved on to the next stage in their life, so it was the right time for me to do that as well."
Walking away from the whiteboards and lesson planning was a tough decision, says Chris.
"I have had plenty of highlights in my teaching career, it's been an exciting time in education overall, some of the new pedagogy, the ideas, it's been great to be part of it."
From a large urban school in Levin, to a small rural school in Kapuni, from serving as deputy principal in Ngaere, to principal roles at Mahoe and St Joseph's, Chris says one consistent highlight has always been seeing students succeed.
"It's that moment when you see your students achieve their potential, be it sporting success or academic, employment or life in general, seeing former pupils so happy and fulfilled in what they do always feels good."
Whether it is seeing a former student of his like Zoe Hobbs achieve international sporting success or seeing ex-pupils return to school in their professional roles as electricians, builders, or even teachers themselves, Chris says knowing he has been part of their life is always humbling.
"Kay and I still get invited to family events and celebrations of families of students I taught at Mahoe, and every time I attend a high school prizegiving or read about them in the paper I am always proud to see the names of pupils from St Joseph's Stratford there, knowing I have been part of their learning journey."
Chris' own teachers have many reasons to be proud of the student who once attended a careers lecture to get out of class. Over the years he has taken on several leadership roles on top of his day-to-day job, from being a founding member of the Central Taranaki Kahui Ako, to mentoring new principals and serving as chairman of the Taranaki Catholic Principals group. He was also the youngest principal in New Zealand when he was appointed to the role at Mahoe school at just 24, which wasn't a problem in the classroom, he said, but did leave one publican unconvinced.
"I was at a conference in Nelson and we were given some vouchers to use in a local bar. I went to the bar, and handed over this voucher, which said 'principal' on it. The bartender looked at it, looked at me and said it couldn't be mine. I couldn't be a principal at my age."
Chris says leaving school for the final time has been bittersweet, but he is glad his teaching journey ended almost full circle from where his schooling started - at a Catholic school.
"Faith has always been very much a part of my life, and it has influenced my teaching over the years. When I was at Ngaere, for example, I would attend mass on Sunday, and whatever the sermon was on that day would filter into my classroom that next week as the class focus or goal.
The Palmerston North Diocese and the church have been greatly supportive over his time at the school, he says.
"I certainly want to thank them for their support, as well as thank the board of proprietors, the board of trustees, the staff at the school, and of course, my wife and family. They have all been part of my journey, and everything I have achieved was only possible because of that support."