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Popular Durango High School teacher retires after 31 years

Students say Dale Garland taught them how to be successful in and out of the classroom
Durango High School teacher Dale Garland is retiring after 31 years. He taught social studies, served as the dean of students, and managed the Knowledge Bowl club, the SCUBA Club and the Ski Club. He also advised the DHS Student Council and the DHS Ambassadors, and he was an assistant coach for the cross-country team. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Dale Garland, a teacher at Durango High School, will retire after 31 years of teaching social studies and, according to students, life lessons about mindset and positivity.

“It’s been a career of helping people learn, helping people find their passions and helping people become better human beings,” Garland said in an interview with The Durango Herald.

Durango High School teacher Dale Garland pauses for a moment at the DHS graduation ceremony on May 27. Garland is retiring after 31 years. (Katie Chicklinski-Cahill/Durango Herald)

Garland taught social studies, but he also served as the dean of students. His engagement at DHS stretched far beyond the classroom. During his time at the high school, he managed the Knowledge Bowl club, the SCUBA Club and the Ski Club; he advised the DHS Student Council and the DHS Ambassadors; and he was an assistant coach for the cross-country team.

“Dale completely changed my life,” said Emy Mattox, a now-graduated senior, who met Garland through Student Council. “I’m a better person because of him. He’s taught me so much about leading, and how to be successful in and out of the classroom.”

After graduating from Fort Lewis College with a psychology major and history minor, Garland worked a corporate job for nearly 10 years before discovering his passion for teaching. He said his interest in education stemmed from his desire to give back to the community, something he had not been able to do in his former position.

“It sounds cliché, but teaching was something that kind of filled a hole in who I was,” he said. “I enjoyed the relationships with students and I enjoyed the content that I was teaching.”

Garland taught his students more than just social studies. Any student in Garland’s class knew about something called the “fish philosophy,” which used the example of workers in a fish market to show that, regardless of the circumstances or the task, people are capable of choosing their mindset.

The fish philosophy is about showing up, choosing your attitude, being kind and having fun while doing it.

Dale Garland and the 2022 Durango High School Student Council. (Courtesy photo)

“Dale has without a doubt been the most influential teacher in my life,” said Lexi Behn, a student who met Garland through SCUBA Club during her freshman year. “The fish philosophy, to me, means you are in charge of your life, can always choose your attitude and can positively impact others. After adopting this philosophy into my life since freshman year, I have learned to grow through challenges and overall have become a more positive and influential person.”

Garland said he’ll miss the relationships with students and staff members at DHS, and the energy and enthusiasm of the students that has helped “keep him young.” He does not know what the next chapter of his life holds, but is excited to find out.

Dale Garland, a teacher at Durango High School, walks through the school Friday for one of the last times as a full-time teacher. Garland is retiring after 31 years. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“When I think about the times that truly stand out to me, they are almost always about helping DHS students experience something or grow in ways that helped make them into better people,” he said.

Mattox said Garland had a lasting impact at DHS.

“As a whole, DHS is a better place because of him,” she said. “The community and the environment are more caring, compassionate, goofy and accepting of each other because of him.”

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