Now, as she celebrates her fourth anniversary in office this weekend, she says that her experience at school has helped to shape her vision for education.
"Even in the mid-1980s the curriculum was very prescriptive," she told The TES. "As a young teacher, I wanted to be creative."
She claims that the current Welsh baccalaureate pilot and the new, play-based curriculum for early-years pupils were both born from her experiences.
"I have seen young people fail in the traditional school system but achieve good things outside that, and I want to bring those opportunities together," she said.
"If we don't give young people self-confidence, motivation, aspirations and opportunities they will grow up disenchanted."
The move from formal education to informal learning involving the whole community is a large part of Ms Davidson's 10-year plan for education. She has described the abolition of secondary school league tables and tests for seven-year-olds as proof of her "radical learning agenda".
She insists that she does not want Wales to be different purely for the sake of it, but is proud that, as a small country, it can make changes more quickly.
New responsibilities as she starts her fifth year in office will include bringing the beleaguered post-16 training body ELWa in-house, a decision she describes as "absolutely the right move". Getting national recognition for the Welsh bac will also be a challenge.
"My biggest achievement has been to get Wales to agree to a sense of direction in education," she said. "But I also know that I will be judged by that direction."
ASSESSMENT SUPPLEMENT 11