CLINTON, Ind (WTWO/WAWV) – As Black History Month comes to a close, we want to share another story of a woman who set the stage for women of color in the education field.
Pearl Nesbett was the first African-American teacher in Clinton, Indiana where she started her career in 1970.
She said she originally planned on applying for a job in Terre Haute, but two friends then convinced her to apply for a job in Clinton.
“I decided to you know, apply for it and this one gentleman on the school board said ‘well take her because Matthews South is considered the stepchild of the corporation anyway,” Nesbitt said.
She got the job as a fourth-grade teacher and continued to pave the way for African American women, regardless of what anyone else had to say about it.
“At that time, African Americans were not welcome to teach middle or high school but could [teach] elementary. So I did go to elementary then. Loved it, loved working with children,” Nesbitt said.
Nesbitt said she worked every day to make sure she turned any negative in her life, into a positive.
She explained that she steered away from the word “equal”, but wanted to make sure that every child in her classroom had a consistent education.
“When they were coming into the classroom I said, ‘don’t care who you are whether you’re the mayor’s son or the banker’s daughter, everybody in here is a fourth grader,'” Nesbitt said.
Over the course of teaching for more than three decades, Nesbitt was nominated and won multiple awards.
She even took a job coaching the South Vermillion High School softball team, instilling the same lessons with them as she did in the classroom.
“I think respect is earned, you can’t demand it. As a teacher and a coach, it’s earned. And so I said, ‘you may call me Ms. Nesbitt or you may call me coach,” Nesbitt said.
Although she said she was never a great teacher with the hope of getting something in return, she said the biggest reward of all is hearing the success stories of those she once taught.
“I wanted them to be prepared for the world, and so when they come back after and they say, ‘well I can do this,’ or ‘I did this’ and ‘I want to give you credit for that.’ I mean, what more could you want?” Nesbitt said.
Nesbitt retired in 2005 from Van Duyn Elementary School.
She said she hopes current and future teachers will “be confident in what you know and what you want to do with your students.”