Aside from parents, teachers have the most significant impact on the youth. As such, great honor is reserved for teachers who go above and beyond the job and dedicate themselves to being a positive influence in their classrooms. Such is the story of Frederick Douglass High School teacher Thomas Kling, as told in Demetrius Matthews’ documentary short, Kling: A Teacher Who Defied The System. This is part of Matthew’s Legacy Media documentary series to honor his former teacher.
The documentary is primarily an interview with the now-retired Kling about his reasons for going into teaching in Chicago and his passion for the young men and women who entered his classroom. He first talks about why he got into teaching and specifically in the rough communities of West Chicago. As a young boy traveling through the U.S. South on summer vacation, Kling got an eye full of an America he didn’t recognize and was disappointed by the treatment of African Americans. He then dedicated himself to the belief that education was the only chance for success for his primarily black students.
“…raise his students to higher educational standards by teaching college-level courses.”
His philosophy was to not teach down to the level of poverty but raise his students to higher educational standards by teaching college-level courses. Kling would dip into his personal finances to purchase books that the school wouldn’t provide and his enthusiasm for learning quickly rubbed off on his students. At first, his class was bullied for being the nerd/geek class, but the results of success were undeniable.
Along with Kling’s teaching philosophy, Kling: A Teacher Who Defied The System teaches audiences about the educator’s activism. He talks at length about his white privilege and the process he went through to find forgiveness and offer restitution. Kling is also a staunch proponent for reparations, which his town of Evanston recently enacted, and, of course, a huge supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. Every small success in his community elicits a heartfelt emotional response from Kling.
It’s clear that Kling had a massive impact on filmmaker Demetrius Martin as he was one of Kling’s first students as a teacher. In several touching moments, Kling is reunited with several other students who have gone on to great success. It’s hard not for me to see Thomas Kling’s passion for the power of education and his steadfast mission to stay in communities that needed him the most because it was the right thing to do.
"…passion for the power of education and his steadfast mission to stay in communities that needed him the most..."