Changing Roles

As originally seen in The Journal on July 22, 2017 – BY STEPHANIE JADRNICEK – SENECA, SC — Nearly a year ago, local business owner Stephen Baxley noticed a familiar name on a work order request. A name he hadn’t seen in more than 20 years — Al Langston.

Langston had taught Baxley technology for three years at Seneca High School in the early 1990s. During Langston’s 44 years in the public school system, he’d taught countless students. And like most teachers, he never knew the lasting impression he’d left on his students.

“It was just me and mom growing up. I didn’t really have anyone to show me how to build things. I learned a lot from Mr. Langston about building things and about mechanics,” Baxley said. “He can build anything. He’s a perfectionist, and everything had to be just right, and I’m just as obsessive about quality.”

Langston had talked Baxley into joining the student staff of the in-school news channel, where he learned reporting, videography and editing. At the end of one year, Baxley had taken home a gold coin that Langston awarded to his top student. So when Baxley called Langston about repairing his Apple watch and heard that his former teacher was soon retiring, he offered his mentor a job.

“It was a real surprise, but I realized it was an opportunity,” Langston said. “This experience has already changed me. It was a door that opened, and I decided to walk through it.” He said working for a business is a much different environment than working for the school system. Now, he’s swapped roles with Baxley. Like a student in his new setting, he’s figuring out where he fits in, what his strengths are and how he can best help the business.

“It’s like being in another world — we’ve got a dozen phones going on all the time and it’s growing super fast,” Langston said. “But Stephen has given me a lot of latitude. He told me that a lot of it is just having a good work ethic and integrity, things I already have, he said. I told him that was pretty humbling.”

Even though Langston is now on Baxley’s payroll, the former student turned boss still sometimes refers to his old tech teacher as Mr. Langston rather than Al — something he’s trying to get used to as he introduces Langston around to other employees at the offices.

“Both of my kids are young — I have a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old. I know people who have teenagers and they call their teachers by their first name, and that seems weird and disrespectful,” Baxley said. “It’s a different world from when I was in school. But I still have that respect for him, so it’s hard to call him Al.” Baxley recently took one of his managers to lunch, and when he said he thought “Mr. Langston” was at the restaurant, the manager looked puzzled. “I had to correct myself and say, ‘I think Al is here,’” Baxley said.

The transition’s been a little awkward at times, moving from a student-teacher relationship to an employer-employee relationship. Mainly because of everyday conversations. “Our conversations are a whole lot different, a whole lot less appropriate, because it’s adult conversation versus student and teacher,” Baxley said.

One of the major projects Baxley has assigned to Langston is drones. Baxley thinks drones will play a large role in the future of technology. Baxley said it’s sometimes funny to think how much the industry has changed since Langston first started teaching him in the early ’90s.

“We didn’t use computers in school back then, it was several years after that,” Baxley said. “I remember the first time I ever touched a computer, it was a little Macintosh — a bare, black screen with a blinking green cursor. It’s a long way from the touch pads we have today.” Just as Langston never thought everyone would carry around computers in the palm of their hand one day, he never thought he’d get hired by a former student.

“I’ve always been very transparent about what I was and what I believed in, I’ve never had any grand illusions about what I have been pursuing,” he said. “I’ve got some great students out there, very successful in working careers and very happy.”

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