Lee County High School Theater and Artistic Director Dotty Davis sits among her third period Drama I class on Thursday. After more than 30 years on and off the stage and 22 years in radio, Davis became a full-time performing arts teacher six years ago. (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)
LEESBURG — Ever since she was eight years old, Dotty Davis has been performing for crowds and teaching in some shape, form or fashion. A former America’s Teen Miss and Georgia’s Junior Miss in 1984, Davis later graduated from Troy State University with a degree in broadcast journalism and married high school sweetheart, Robby Davis, and moved to Albany
Dotty spent more than 22 years in radio, but she and Robby also remained active in the theater, symphony and arts programs of southwest Georgia. Six years ago, she became a full-time teacher at Lee County High School where she is now the school’s Theater and Artistic Director.
The phone in her office is appropriately known as “The Drama Line.”
She sat down with The Herald to answer 21 questions about where she’s been, where she’s at and what lies ahead.
Q: If you were fresh out of college, what would you first do in searching for a job?
A: Knowing what I know now, I would take the opportunity to go on an adventure. I would take the job that took me
out of the area and out of my comfort zone. I was afraid as a college graduate and never took the leap to go see other places.
Q: What was your first job?
A: My first job was teaching beginner piano students in my mother’s music studio in Valdosta. I was about 15 and my job was to work with the 6- and 7-year-old students because they enjoyed working with, and practiced more, for a teenager. I found that my mother’s ideas were pretty smart. It was also great working with my entire family. We had a retail music store, Valdosta Music, so I had lots of opportunities to learn how to play a variety of instruments. I also sang in a band from about eight until I graduated from high school. It was great money and I played with kids that are now in so many different facets of entertaining. Our lead guitarist, Rich Herring, plays lead guitar with the Little River Band and just produced their new album.
Q: What was the first thing you bought after you got your first paycheck?
A: I really don’t remember what I spent my first paycheck on, but it was probably make-up or a junior whopper.
Q: Who was your role model or mentor in your current job?
A: I have two role models when it comes to teaching — my mother, Dot Brown, who taught music for over 50 years, and my husband, Robby Davis, who has been an English teacher for over 20 years. Both understood that teenagers are powerful forces when they are motivated and when they are curious. Robby Davis is probably the best classroom manager I have ever seen.
Q: What motivated you to get into theater?
A: I actually have a degree in Broadcast Journalism, but I spent all of my “fun” time in every type of theatre I could. I worked either on stage, or as a choreographer, for my college theatre department, Theatre Albany, Deerfield Windsor and several other area groups. I have always had a calling to create. I was lucky to work with Robby while he was still the theatre director at LCHS and he really encouraged me to apply for the theatre job when it opened at LCHS.
Q: After 22 years in radio, what prompted you to get into teaching?
A: Wow, that is a question you weren’t supposed to ask. Radio was consolidating so much and so quickly, I saw the handwriting on the wall. I knew they were eventually going to have to fire me and I had to have a plan. I just moved faster than they did.
Q: How has the recession affected high school fine arts theater budgets, specifically within the LCSS?
A: I am happy to say that I have noticed little difference at my school and I am excited to see our newest elementary school adding theatre into their curriculum. I do know that fund-raising is more difficult, but the interest in theatre and funding from the school is the same.
Q: If you could turn back the clock on one aspect of technology (email, internet, cell phones, etc:) what would it be and why?
A: To quote my friend, Matt Dravecky, I have “TECHNO JOY!” I love technology, as long as it doesn’t replace a real-live teacher. I do not like, however, that children carry cellphones like they are the “must have” accessory. Most teenagers are simply avoiding having actual conversations with other people. I think cellphones and the usage bring out the worst in most people.
Q: I am up and going by … ?
A: I laughed when you asked this question because I thought the answer was Krispy Kreme! I understand now that you’re looking for a time of day. On the average workday I am up and going by 6:30 a.m. and during show rehearsals my husband and I usually come home around 10 p.m. On the weekend, I can sleep until about nine … after that, I gotta go.
Q: Favorite hobby or activity outside of work?
A: I don’t have a lot of time outside of work, but I do love working on my house and yard. I love to travel — anywhere.
Q: If you could take back one decision in your career, what would it be?
A: I can’t think of a decision I would take back because I have met some great bosses and some terrible bosses and each one has taught me how to be a better manager. But I would have liked to have stayed in school and continued my masters degree before heading out into the “real world”. Once you’re out of school it’s very hard to find time to get back to school.
Q: What’s the best thing about your job?
A: The best thing about my job originally was having the opportunity to teach and be with my own children. I feel like a missed a lot of my kids growing up because of my dedication to my job. It was wonderful to see my kids and actually have them in a classroom during the day. Now that both of our kids are off at school, I still like working with students who are interested in theatre and who are interesting kids to know. I finally have vacation with my family, too! After 22 years in radio and TV most of my vacation time (two weeks) had to be scheduled around ratings periods and advertisers who only wanted you to do their broadcast or commercials. After entering teaching six years ago, I finally vacationed with my family.
Q: What’s the most difficult thing about your job?
A: There are always changes happening in education. Each new idea brings new paperwork, new requirements and new demands. That is difficult. I think more teachers should be involved in how education works, since they are the ones in the classroom and can see the caliber of student they are working with in their geographic and socioeconomic area. There were upgrades and changes in radio and TV, but not a total rewrite of how you do your job.
Q: What was the most beneficial course you took in school?
A: Typing. Now known as “keyboard,” this was the most beneficial course I took anywhere.
Q: What would be your dream job?
A: Who wouldn’t want to win the lottery? I would like that job.
Q: Finish this: “On the first anniversary of my retirement” I see myself …?
A: I see myself still working. I don’t see myself ever retiring. I don’t think I will ever financially be able to just retire, and I think it would be incredibly boring to just sit still.
Q: What is the one trait a fine arts teacher cannot be without?
A: I believe a fine arts teacher is a jack-of-all-trades. A sense of humor also helps keep your sanity when you’re overwhelmed in a show. I am certainly blessed to have Robby Davis as my technical director and Kevin Blaise as our music director so they do lighten my load significantly. Add to that the fact we have an incredible parent base that help make my after school work much easier. I don’t think anyone understands that after teaching six classes a day, my second, unpaid job begins. In order to give the theatre students the opportunity to be in shows I have to work around everyone’s schedules. If a student wants to take an AP class, chances are they will be unable to schedule a drama class. So if that student wants to be involved, it has to happen outside of class time. And unlike sports, theatre is a year-round activity.
Q: What do you see as southwest Georgia’s biggest education challenge?
A: I think the quality of student has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Students expect the teachers to be “entertaining” instead of educational. I’m not sure where this begins to develop — at home, with parents, with peers — but it is very sad and can be very defeating to any teacher. When I began teaching I taught six classes a day. Now, we teach seven classes each day. At first glance it doesn’t seem to be a big deal, but then you are writing more lesson plans and grading even more papers and still directing shows outside of your regular day. It can be very exhausting. Also, I think we need to truly look at the poverty in our area and understand how that directly affects early education. Without food children do not grow mentally or physically. Even if you have a great teacher working with young children, you cannot overcome the deficit they bring into the classroom if they are undernourished or have no stable parent to help them achieve academically.
Q: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in education over the past several years?
A: I think parent involvement has significantly changed. Parents either work so much they cannot get involved with the students and their classes, or they choose not to get involved at all until there is a serious problem with their child. A parent must see a teacher as a partner in the success of the student.
Q: What was the best vacation you ever took?
A: I have a great family and extended family. There’s nowhere we go that isn’t fun. But I have learned that you really don’t have to spend all your money to have a great time. You just have to be together.
Q: Any parting words of wisdom?
A: If you are a new parent, stop buying your child techno-toys and read to them. Stop entertaining them and teach them how to use their imagination and how to be alone with themselves. Just watch people driving recklessly because they feel they must be on their phone and you’ll realize that the average kid doesn’t know how to be alone with themselves and their thoughts. It’s in this quiet time that great ideas are created. Those creative and imaginative kids will be the ones that invent, create and discover great things.