Highland High School celebrates longtime teacherMar 29, 2022 09:55PM ● By Lizzie Walie
By Lizzie Walje | [email protected]
Nearly 70 years ago, high school educator Dean Collett walked into Highland High School and never looked back.
Collett, who has been affectionately dubbed “Mr. Highland” has taught thousands of students over his nearly seven decade run as a teacher. Incidentally, Collett’s first day at Highland just so happened to also be the school’s opening day. In short, Highland High School has never known a time when Collett was not present.
Prior to his impressive career at Highland, Collett explored a few different pathways. From serving a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s mission in Sweden to gaining acceptance into the College of Physicians and Surgeons in San Francisco, Collett was initially torn in multiple directions unsure of what to do next. Following a short bid in the United States Army, Collett eventually settled on the University of Utah’s College of Education. After graduating in the summer of 1956, Collett jumped right into work at Highland High School.
“I started at Highland High School the day it opened. After a few years, we had our first graduating class in 1959. The rest is history. I have been here ever since and have had the pleasure of watching each subsequent class, generation after generation, graduate.”
Collett first began his career as a mathematics teacher. Following his stint in mathematics, Collett also taught both German and Russian language. Even Collett admits it’s hard to imagine a time when Russian was actually a language option at Highland High School, let alone any school, anywhere.
“Our principal at the time was a man named Dr. W. Fred Arbergast, who was a very innovative individual. I moved from teaching both mathematics and German to exclusively Russian. Teaching Russian was an opportunity to do something that had never been done before, and frankly, there was a lot of interest about that part of the world at the time.”
In the decades that followed, Collett would witness thousands of students graduate. He quickly became a highly respected and well-loved teacher, as well as a touchstone of Highland High School culture. Understandably so, as there has not been a time where Highland was open that Collett was not present.
Collett has witnessed everything from teacher’s strikes to the coming and going of several district superintendents. While Collett has seen many positive changes occur during his time at Highland, he maintains that he was realistic about what teaching would mean in a monetary sense. Even today, conversations are still being had about the role of teachers and their need for a livable salary. The same issue has consistently popped up over the duration of his career. Yet as far as Collett was concerned, he never walked into teaching expecting much in terms of money and benefits, realizing quickly that it would be his passion and desire that would largely fuel his decades-long career.
“I knew what I was getting into when I got into teaching. I knew there was not a lot of money to be had. But that was OK for me, because [making money] has never been a huge factor in my life. I’ve been lucky to learn to live on whatever I’ve had. It’s something I’ve learned to do from the beginning. Granted, I’ve been fortunate not to have a lot of the familial expenses that others do. But perhaps that’s what made me a good teacher, my ability to give that extra level of attention to students,” he said.
Given his lifelong contribution to the school, Highland wanted to honor Collett’s extraordinary loyalty and unmatched dedication. As of 2022, the commons room at Highland will feature Collett’s name in its official title. This well-deserved honor comes as no surprise to the faculty, students, and community who have adored Collett for decades.
Looking back at his career, Collett remains adamant that he wouldn’t have changed his path in the slightest.
“This is where I belong,” Collett said. “If I had it all to do over again, I would jump right back into it as far and as hard as I did. It has been the most rewarding thing in my life. There is nothing more gratifying than having a student whom you’ve taught 30 years ago, not only remember you, but remember something that you had shown them or told them. That has been one of my life’s greatest satisfactions.”