Teaching history has as much to do with developing engaged citizens as it does imparting knowledge of the past.
Just ask John Garner, faculty member at Newnan High School and 2008 graduate of the University of West Georgia. For him, the decision to become a high school teacher was all about improving lives.
“I worked in loss prevention for department stores,” said Garner who, at the time, was a UWG undergraduate studying criminal justice. “I saw kids making bad decisions. They were going down the wrong path, so I wondered where I could make a difference.”
He found his calling in teaching history, and there has been no turning back.
In October, Garner 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, Ga. This highly prestigious award follows upon the heels of many other honors he has received, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars 2017 Teacher of the Year.
For Garner, the path to such success for both himself and his students began with UWG.
“West Georgia offers highly credentialed professors who are extremely skilled,” Garner said. “It was big enough to allow me to achieve all that I wanted to. But it was also small enough to feel like family.”
Working toward his secondary education certification, Garner found an abundance of mentors and role models among UWG faculty. They encouraged him, challenged him, and kept him on track to continue moving forward.
“They fed my passion,” Garner said. “Every history class that I took brought me to a new level of interest. No matter the subject or time period, I began to see how all the world interacts through history.”
Upon graduation, Garner taught eighth-grade Georgia studies in Polk County and science in Carroll County. He gained so much from these experiences that he decided to dig even deeper into the subject matter, returning to UWG to graduate with his master’s in 2011.
Part of what drew him back to UWG was the guidance of Dr. Judy Butler, professor in the College of Education. Herself a former recipient of the Gwen Hutchinson Outstanding Educator Award, Butler mentors Garner to this day. She says that what she finds most amazing about Garner is his creativity.
“He has a great ability to get his students involved in the community,” Butler said. “Everywhere he goes, he sees opportunities for learning and for teaching the skills necessary 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, and his interests span subjects ranging from geography to cultural studies. This 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.”
Through his career, Garner has founded student award-winning history clubs. His classes teleconference with leaders in civics and politics to bring current events directly into the classroom. Extending learning beyond the classroom crosses international borders, as his students have spoken with experts around the world including Sierra Leone, Bosnia, India and elsewhere.
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. “History and Social Sciences Department Chair Steve Quesinberry has a passion that motivates the rest of us. Feeding from the energy and creativity of my peers in the social studies department is what makes coming to work so fun.”
With this culture of support – from UWG as a student to his faculty position at Newnan High School – it is small wonder Garner found himself standing upon a stage in Athens last October to receive the Outstanding Social Studies Educator Award from the Georgia Council for the Social Studies.
“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.”