Randal Davidson didn’t come to teaching by the traditional route. He didn’t grow up wanting to be a teacher. The events of 9/11 changed changed his career path as a desire to give back and his love of history came together.
Today all the sacrifices and hard work he made to be a teacher are paying off. Not only does he find fulfillment in his job everyday, he says he recently received one of the greatest honors in his life—being named STAR teacher by one of his students.
If Davidson’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because of his work in broadcasting. Randal Davidson first came to Dalton in 1995 as a sports and news director at WBLJ AM radio. His responsibilities at the radio station included providing the play-by-play on Friday nights at the football games for the Dalton High School Catamounts. Just a few months into his stint at the radio station, the Dalton High games were moved to a new local FM station. So, Davidson moved over to WYYU FM to do the broadcasts and provide news and sports coverage for the area.
On September 11, 2001, Davidson was behind the microphone providing local news updates as the tragic events unfolded. He says he remembers being the only one at the station who was familiar with Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban. He had finished reading a book about them only a few months prior.
“I love history and I love reading—I’ve always been an information junkie,” Davidson says. After 9/11, he decided he wanted to pursue something that would provide more fulfillment and meaning. “I’d taken college classes on and off for several years and had almost 2½ years of credits,” Davidson said. “I decided to pursue a degree in history and become a teacher. I left radio full-time and enrolled at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. I continued to do the broadcast work for Dalton High School part-time and also took other part-time jobs to help support my family. I was married and had a child and it wasn’t easy. But it was worth it.”
Upon graduating in 2004, Davidson applied for a teaching position at Dalton High. “They actually had me come in and audition—teach a class on the causes of World War II to the principal, department head, etc. Because of my broadcast experience, I was comfortable to talking in front of people so I just prepared my lesson and did it. I can still remember the excitement I had when Mr. (Phillip) Brown (former principal at DHS) called to offer me the job. I had to pull over on the side of the road because I was just overjoyed.”
Davidson says his teaching style is to keep the students engaged. “You know that teaching is 90 percent theater because you’ve got to capture a student’s attention before you can give them the information. I believe in making it a conversation—mix it up with stories, and tying something from 300 years ago to what happened on MTV last week—that makes it memorable.” Davidson says classroom management is a huge component to being successful. “I set high expectations and start out pretty strict. As students progress through the semester, I’m able to loosen up a bit.”
Teaching has given him a new dimension to his continuing broadcast duties for the school. “I have a lot of the athletes in my classes and it’s great to talk about last night’s game. It really personalizes the games for me.” Davidson has announced all the home and away football games for Dalton High for 17 years without missing a single one. He also broadcasts the Catamount’s home and away basketball games, as well as many of the baseball games.
“When I took the broadcast job at Dalton 17 years ago, someone told me that I could stay in Dalton for five years and then move on to something else, or I could stay 30 years and be a legend,” Davidson remembers. “I hope I have another 17 or so years left. Dalton is a unique place. I love the tradition behind Dalton High, and I feel like I stand on the shoulders of all the people who came before me. There is no better school anywhere. The teachers are really great professionals and the administration is incredible. I visit a lot of schools and I see how we compare. We have a culture that fosters student development. Our kids are the best.”
He finds fulfillment and enjoyment in teaching high school students and building relationships with students that last long after they have graduated. “I tell my students I won’t be friends with them on Facebook while they are in school,” Davidson says. “But after graduation, I usually get about 50 friend requests from my former students. I had a former student call me recently while I was out to dinner because he wanted to talk through some ideas for a paper he had to write for a class at the University of Georgia. Hearing about their successes and watching them go on to great things is very rewarding for me.”
Davidson’s family has grown since he came to Dalton. His wife, who is originally from the Dade County area, is also a teacher and they now have 5 children, two of which they adopted. His oldest daughter just graduated from Auburn University and he has a 3 teenagers and a three-year-old still at home. “Being a teacher has given me a great family life,” Davidson adds. “I enjoy the 9 weeks off in the summer to have time to focus on my family. Teaching is like a video game—there’s a reset button every summer where you can start thinking about how you’re going to do things better and improve your strategy. And then you start each year with a completely different set of kids that make it a whole new experience.”
While Davidson has experienced media coverage and recognition before, he says nothing has compared to being selected as STAR Teacher by one of his students. Jin Park, who was named 2012 STAR Student at Dalton High School, says she selected Davidson because he’s not your typical teacher. She said his lectures were attention grabbing and captivating and it made her want to learn more.
“Through my experiences in his class, I have grown as a person and as a student,” Jin said. “Not only were his classes both challenging and engaging, Mr. Davidson showed me how to question ‘facts’; he taught me not to accept things at face value. So, through his teaching, my interest in history has greatly increased, and, more importantly, I have learned to be more discerning, as I now know not to accept something just because one person, one source claims it as truth. I have learned to look at any fact from more than one point of view, and to form my own opinions on any topic rather than simply follow the lead and the ideas of others.”
“I’m just blown away,” Davidson said. “Jin is balanced, well rounded, mature—to be selected by someone who is going to succeed at her level is a huge honor. I still just grin when I think about it because it’s wonderful to be chosen by a student and it’s really a validation that I must be doing something right.”