Assistant Principal Juan Garner’s 26-year pedagogical history is tied to CVHS’ own history


CVHS yearbook

Photo of CVHS Assistant Principal Juan Garner during the first year (2004) CVHS became an official school.

During his youth, CVHS Assistant Principal, Juan Garner was fascinated by maps. He drew maps of his childhood neighborhood, created imaginary maps and made cities in the dirt for his Hot Wheels car set. To this day, Mr. Garner is still fascinated by the structure of cities from their mass transit systems, road networks, business districts, waterways, neighborhood locations, etc.

Over the years, his dream to become a city planner faded as he embarked on a now 26-year career in education. Carnegie’s history is very much interwoven with Garner’s history teaching. He has been with the school from its start. 

“I never thought that I could be interested in teaching in general. I think I was in grad school with the idea I was probably going to be a writer or a history researcher. I didn’t really care for the teaching part. I wanted to deal with history and those things there,” Garner said.

Garner went to college taking business classes, but after being placed on probation, he decided to do the things he enjoyed which, coincidentally, was history, so he decided to stick to that.

“I was going to college to get a job and make money, but after a year and a half, I realized how I didn’t want to

Photo of Garner with his friends

just make money. I didn’t want to wake up and be about money. All my lectures were always history and geography. I was taking business courses too and hated them. Just hated them. I dreaded going there and I made two Cs and two Ds. I was put on probation. So, I had to do something about it. I stopped going to those courses and started taking all types of stuff I liked. I end up having enough course credits to be a history major,” Garner said.

Even though Garner loved history, he had not planned on being a high school teacher but while in graduate school, Mr. Garner was offered an internship that set his teaching career in motion.

“My graduate school professor, Dr. Wentz, recommended me for an internship at the St. John’s School. The TSU graduate department and St. John’s School had a program where TSU history graduate students would teach for a semester at St. John’s School. It was a paid internship, and I was broke. Though I had no plans on being a teacher, I jumped at the opportunity to make some money. It would be a watershed [important] moment in my life,” Garner said.

2004 Garner teaching his classes. (CVHS yearbook)

In 1996, Garner joined CVHS as an intern when it was a small vanguard program at the Jones High School. He taught at Jones H.S. from the fall of 1998 through the spring of 2002. In 2002, the vanguard program broke away from Jones H.S. to become Carnegie Vanguard High School. 

“ The kids were sharp. I mean smart kids. It was very creative, very much liberal arts leaning,” Garner said. “I was in my 20s. I was young trying to figure it out. That school had a major impact and who I ended up becoming.”

The initial enrollment of CVHS was 178 students. The number of students was not enough to sustain a campus. Then, in the fall of 2004, Principal Ramon Moss was hired to be the principal at CVHS. His only goal as the principal of Carnegie? To keep the school alive by getting over 600 students to attend CVHS.

“Mr. Moss came, he brought stability,” Garner said. “His charge was to grow the program. It was his job. And he succeeded, but the negative of growth is that you lose some of the small, ‘everybody knowing each other’ type of energy. We live in a capitalist society, so if you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

Besides being the Assistant Principal, Garner taught AP European History and now teaches African American Studies. Garner wanted to continue attending university to get a Ph.D. in African American Studies but decided to continue teaching it at CVHS instead.

Photo of Juan Garner during his time in college.

“I asked my department chair at that time, ‘Do you think I should go ahead and continue pursuing my Ph.D. and get to teach at the college level? Or should I go into high school teaching and continue teaching part-time at your community college?’” He says, ‘The second choice makes more money, because even though being a college professor has some prestige to it, if you’re not writing and producing books, you’re not making any money.’ And so, that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been an adjunct professor at Houston Community College since 2001,” Garner said.

When Garner started as a teacher, he noticed the generational barrier between his students and himself. Garner had a love for music and finding coming-of-age artists in the record stores. Garner realized his students also shared that same love for music as he did.

“You could stop at a record store and listen to the CDs before you bought them. I would spend hours at a record store listening to music, to the different origins, to all [the] different types of music that I try to get an understanding [for] that’s something that I want to buy. I really wish to call it ‘digging in the crates,’ looking for the music, looking for that unique artist and next thing coming or something off the beaten path,” Garner said.

During his years of teaching, Mr. Garner integrated music and story time into his classes. He allowed his students to be submerged in the music they both enjoyed and told stories of his youth. Music allowed the generational gap between his students and himself to be filled. 

“We had block scheduling at Jones Vanguard and it was tough for me. I failed at keeping the students’ attention for 90 minutes, so I built 15/20 minutes of what I called “play time” to my classes. I would purposefully go on tangents regarding music or my youth,” Garner said. “Music allowed me to connect with students, but now, there is a difference, because music is not as important to this generation of kids now.”

Photo of Garner with his friends (Juan Garner)

The exposure to different music genres that his students experienced in his classroom allowed one of his students to pursue a career in the music industry. 

“One of my favorite students, he’s a local rapper, graduated from Carnegie in 2006. His name is Fat Tony NCLB. He was one of my students and we still communicate to this day. When Prince died, he called me, and I cried like a baby in my office.” 

Garner experienced all the ups and downs that made CVHS what it is today. Even though he did not originally want to teach high school students, he never left.

“I like young people more than I like history. You guys are fresh and new. You make me feel young, fresh, and new. Your fresh eyes are open to the world and I want to help you guys change it for the better.”