While his name may not give you that impression, Mr. Dark is bringing some love and light into the classroom.
Garrett Dark came from Sakskatchewan, growing up and completing his education in Regina.
Five years ago, the couple decided to look for a change of pace and a change of place which offered outdoor recreation opportunities.
They also wanted to be able to buy affordable land and ended up in the Cariboo.
They have settled outside of town near Horsefly, a location which provides them the space to also pursue their interest in regenerative agriculture.
Dark says he has learned a lot and grown into the job after eight years of experience, five years of which has been in Williams Lake.
His eyes wrinkle in a grin behind his mask as he recalls his younger self’s ideas about the job of being a teacher. He chose the profession “because it seemed like an easy job and to have the summers off.”
But this attitude towards the role clearly did not last, and he speaks rapidly and passionately about his students and how he approaches his position as an English and French teacher working with Grades 8 and 9 at Lake City Secondary School — Columneetza campus.
Well-loved by many students, he believes in self-paced learning and works hard to provide a balance for students, given the broad range of literacy in his classes.
A small number of students in each class may not have the basic skills to read or write in order to carry out basic employment-related tasks or to be able to properly navigate government or some functions in society, while others might be in the mid-range of literacy and a few might be needing greater levels of stimulation and challenge.
He emphasized the importance of parents reading to and with their kids, even through middle school.
His goal it to try and meet the different levels and enable them to learn other skills which he believes is critical at the ages he teaches, which is mostly 13-15 year olds.
And while some might lament the age of texting as damaging the ability of youth to learn literacy, Dark holds no such negative view.
“At the age they’re in, it’s very impulsive, need-based communication, so texting has allowed their needs to be met a lot earlier in a lot of ways, to contact and connect with more people,” explains Dark.
He also believes it allows them to explore the world around them more easily.
What he does find challenging is the lack of critical thinking skills about their own abilities and desires and “how they fit into a broader scale and making sense of more complex issues … that’s where the struggle is for me.”
He does see cell phones as a distraction in the classroom, which he addresses on an individual basis,.
“I like to have conversations, get them thinking about their choices, thinking about their goals for their future and having them identify if it’s a habit they would like to kick or not.”
“It’s more about instilling the sensibility about how to moderate or manage your time, the idea of getting things done before you let that pleasure centre of your brain take over.”
“That’s middle school in a nutshell, lots of good things happening, but it’s always a challenge.”
Between battling attention spans, hormones peer outside influence and anything going on at home, the students in middle school have a lot of ground to cover and it is not an easy time, but Dark expresses nothing but appreciation for his students.
He says he tries to set an example or an expectation which helps his students grasp the importance of school and putting in the effort.
“It doesn’t work by osmosis, you’ve got to actually work towards the goal.”
His English classes still include the usual assortment of classics, poetry and short stories, but he definitely goes beyond these standard parts of the curriculum.
“It’s such a difficult, confusing time to be a human, alive, especially during that time in their lives.”
So with this empathetic perspective, Dark tries to support the youth in dealing with the pressures and expectations and says his fellow teachers in middle school generally understand a big part of it all is feeling like you are a part of something and feeling like you belong.
“It’s kind of a nice balance … that empathy and compassion for the age group. Being a positive role model in their lives is number one.”