It was never about barriers.
It was always about belief – belief in herself.
Her school-age dreams always had wings.
From her start at Lincoln Elementary School in Lansing, Mich. to the Weakley County Training School to Tennessee State University.
From segregation to integration and all the way to the KFVS 12’s Heartland’s Best Teacher of 2011.
Beverly Caldwell Claybrooks was chosen over many teachers from the states of Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee to receive the honor.
Julie Jackson, principal at the Fulton County School where Claybrooks now teaches, admitted she had never seen “Ms. Beverly” speechless, but it was Claybrooks’ turn to be at a loss for words.
“It all started at home,” Claybrooks recalled. “My parents demanded the best. My English had to be perfect. I had to study. I read. I was an avid reader. My family demanded excellence. It’s just always been there from the beginning. I grew up in a very disciplined, Godly home.”
Claybrooks started school in Michigan and moved to Martin where she attended the Weakley County Training
School. The same values her parents attempted to instill in her at home were emphasized at the training school – Weakley County’s African-American school.
“We were taught this is a big world and you must be competitive in it. We were taught that as an African- American, it would be harder for you, so always do your best. If you didn’t do your best, the teachers would come and talk to your parents. You had to compete and stand tall.”
Claybrooks had always harbored dreams of becoming a doctor, but in fourth grade, she had a teacher,
Mrs. Florence Conner, who made her turn her thoughts from a career in medicine to a career in education.
“I wanted to be like her. I wanted to do everything as she did. I emulated her. She provided me with a path to
follow,” Claybrooks admitted.
After the Weakley County Training School came Tennessee State University and then Claybrooks took her first teaching job in metro Nashville at a nongraded primary school, Carter Lawrence Elementary School.
The school was funded through a multi-million dollar grant from the Ford Foundation and Claybrooks was selected to teach there based on a high score on the National Teacher’s Exam. The school focused on low-income families and the goal was to raise the scores of the children to match those of more affluent schools.
Claybrooks was placed under the tutelage of one of the master teachers and later went on to teach on closed circuit television for Sir Isaac Pittman who developed a widely-used system of shorthand. Chosen by a consulting group of peers and principals as a top teacher, at 22 years old she helped to integrate a staff at Turner School on
Nolansville Road in Nashville.
“When parents first walked in, they said, ‘Get my child out of that ‘N’ word’s class, but later on after I’d proven myself, they were proud their child had me,” Claybrooks said.
After Turner came Percy Priest Elementary School and then came the call from Dr. Robert Moore, the principal
at Sharon. He wanted a “top-notch black teacher” to integrate the faculty, so Claybrooks and her husband Walter
moved to Martin and built a house.
Now, as a teacher in the Fulton County School system in Hickman, Claybrooks has amassed 30 years of teaching in Tennessee and eight in Kentucky.
And that’s not all.
Claybrooks is presently finishing a book that she and her best friend Judy Hester (now deceased) were writing together titled “The Hands of Time.” This book chronicles their lives growing up in the South. Christopher Coulson of Fulton County designed the cover.
Presently working on her PhD, Claybrooks is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the National Council of Mathematics Teachers, a Mathematics specialist in Fulton County Elementary/Middle School, R.A. for Fulton County Education Association, a member of the Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church, church historian, a member of the prayer ministry and a member of the sanctuary choir. She also sits on the zoning board for the City of Martin. She and her husband are the parents of three daughters – Carol, Christie and Niki.
They have five grandchildren – Russ, Kristin, Anachea, Rocky and Peoni.
As if that weren’t enough, Claybrooks is working on a second book, “The Wonderful World of Teaching Through My Eyes.”
The person who once was seen on the news with the mayor of Nashville and was lauded by the city’s leader
as a “wonderful teacher” in a time of segregated faculties and who influenced generations of students to reach for excellence beyond barriers doesn’t have time for rest. Yet.
“Someone told me, ‘You need to start writing down everything’,” Claybrooks remarked. “You’ve been through so much.’”