Whoever coined the phrase, “those who can’t do, teach,” probably didn’t spend a lot of time at the front of a classroom, and certainly doesn’t share the philosophy of a longtime Summit School District teacher.
Leslie Davison, Spanish teacher at Summit High School, has always taken a different approach to education ever since she first arrived in 1991 from Traverse City, Mich. to teach skiing at Breckenridge Ski & Snowboard School.
Holding degrees in communications, technology and teaching, with a focus on Spanish, Davison has worked in the Summit School District since about the time she arrived, most notably in Dillon Valley Elementary School’s dual language program.
With close to 22 years of experience, Davison has developed an interesting philosophy towards education and challenged the popular phrase by saying Thursday, “you can’t teach what you don’t know.”
It’s an interesting and all together appropriate mantra, Davison said, especially for someone who teaches a foreign language. It’s a spirit that has motivated Davison throughout her life to seek out people of different backgrounds and cultures — bringing her first to the mountains from the Midwest and later inspiring her to teach abroad in places like Honduras, Cambodia and, most recently, Singapore.
Last year Davison took a break from the Summit School District to teach elementary Spanish at the Singapore American School in the Republic of Singapore. The Singapore American School offers an American-based curriculum for more than 3,800 preschool through 12th grade students from more than 50 nations — 70 percent of whom hold U.S. passports.
As a member of “the club,” which is how she refers to people who are fluent in more than one language, Davison jumped at the opportunity to teach in the Southeast Asian city-state.
Although Spanish isn’t one of them, Singapore claims four official languages, including English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil, making it a perfect place for someone like Davison.
“I’ve always been interested in other cultures and I think understanding language is so important to understanding where people come from,” Davison said. “It was neat to be in a country that honors all four languages, their cultures and their holidays.”
During the course of a typical day, Davison would arrive at school and could end up interacting with people in as many as a half a dozen languages before the end of the morning.
“I would greet guards at the school in Tamil, instruction assistants in Malay, colleagues in English or Spanish and cafeteria staff in Cantonese,” Davison said. “I loved being exposed to all of the languages they speak. It was amazing that by just going through the course of my morning I would greet and speak to people in as many as six different languages.”
To overcome the communication barrier, Davison forced herself to learn each language through comprehensible input, or by listening to how words are spoken in context. For example, Davison spent a lot of time in the cafeteria early on during her tenure ordering the same thing in order to understand the Cantonese words for “two dollars.”
However beneficial the method, it’s one that is often difficult to replicate in the classroom, but Davison has a plan.
Drawing from her background in technology, Davison hopes to bridge the classroom barrier that makes learning through comprehensible input difficult. While teaching abroad, Davison used Skype technology to connect her students with Spanish language learners in Summit County, as well as with native speakers in Honduras. She plans to implement the same techniques now that she has returned to the district.
“I’m psyched to be back in Summit County to share with students what I have learned,” Davison said. “I’m sure I’m going to infuse some Asian culture into my Spanish curriculum. After this experience, I’m not going to be able to help myself.”
“I’ve always been interested in other cultures and I think understanding language is so important to understanding where people come from. It was neat to be in a country that honors all four languages, their cultures and their holidays.”
Spanish teacher at Summit High School