Teaching history has as much to do with developing engaged citizens as it does imparting knowledge of the past.
For Newnan High School’s John Garner, the decision to become a high school teacher was all about improving lives.
Garner recently received the Gwen Hutchinson Outstanding Social Studies Educator Award, presented at the annual meeting of the Georgia Council for the Social Studies at the Classic Center in Athens. The prestigious award follows upon the heels of many other honors he has received, including being named VFW Teacher of the Year in 2017.
“I pour a lot of energy into my students,” Garner said. “To be recognized by my peers is a great honor. It means I am heading in the right direction.”
Garner said his path changed when he was working in loss prevention and studying criminal justice at the University of West Georgia.
“I saw kids making bad decisions,” he said. “They were going down the wrong path, so I wondered where I could make a difference.”
Garner changed his major and said he found his calling in teaching history.
“Every history class that I took brought me to a new level of interest,” he said. “No matter the subject or time period, I began to see how all the world interacts through history.”
Garner began his career teaching eighth-grade Georgia studies in Polk County and science in Carroll County. He said he learned so much from those experiences that he decided to dig even deeper into the subject, returning to UWG to earn his master’s degree in 2011.
“(Garner) has a great ability to get his students involved in the community,” said Dr. Judy Butler, a professor in the UWG’s College of Education and Garner’s mentor. “Everywhere he goes, he sees opportunities for learning and for teaching the skills necessary (for his students) to become active, informed members of the community.”
Now in his fifth year at Newnan High School, Garner has taught a range of subjects including American history, civics, AP government and AP human geography. He said his passion for community involvement and creative opportunity deeply influences his methods of teaching.
“History cannot be taught only from textbooks,” Garner said. “I like to get my students involved.”
During his career, Garner has founded several award-winning school history clubs. His classes teleconference with leaders in civics and politics to bring current events directly into the classroom, and his students have spoken with international experts from locations such as Sierra Leone, Bosnia and India.
Garner credits the culture of Newnan High School and its faculty for making such innovative opportunities possible.
“The dedication of the teachers here at Newnan High School is unlike anything I could have expected,” Garner said, citing the passion of history and social sciences department chair Steve Quesinberry a motivating factor. “Feeding from the energy and creativity of my peers in the social studies department is what makes coming to work so fun.”