Former CPS Student Creates Documentary About Teacher who Changed His Life.

Former CPS Student Creates Documentary About Teacher who Changed His Life.

I am sure if we all look back, we can think of one teacher or person that influenced us in some way.  Most times we don’t have the opportunity to let them know how much they mean to us, and we appreciate them.

Demetrius Mathews found a way to celebrate a remarkable educator who changed the lives of over 36 students on Chicago’s West Side during the 1980’s in his documentary film, “Kling: A Teacher Who Defied The System.”

Chicago Public Schools in the 1980’s was considered one of the worst school systems in the country. Schools that serviced the Black and Brown communities didn’t have the resources needed to teach effectively. In most cases, students were classified as slow learners or were judged by the families they came from.  Demetrius Matthews was one of those students. When I spoke with him, he told me that from an early age he was classified as a slow learner but his mother, who was working her way through college while raising and supporting her family as a single mom, took time with him and told him that he was being tested on things he and his schoolmates had never been taught.

Demetrius explained, “Looking back, I would say it was like a twilight zone and not just for me but my other classmates. Is because here we were, we were ushered through school great after grade and we all had a sense of feeling rejected or feeling we are in the way. And not just the school system, just even from society or even some families where it’s just like, “Well, if she go with all them kids it’s wrong.” And the teachers are really quick to discipline without any type of empathy, I would say. And so, we all kind of felt the sense of rejection and/or we felt damaged.”

In the sixth grade all that changed for Demetrius and his classmates.  In the mid 80’s a new model was introduced to keep students with the same teacher for three years.  Demetrius was blessed to be in Mr. Thomas Kling’s class. A teacher who cared enough to get to know his students and introduce them to a new world of learning.  A teacher who saw them individually and not as a whole. A teacher who expected them to reach their potential.

Demetrius explains: “And then here we have this Mr. Kling. He came in and for everyone, we resonated with him because he showed us that he cared and we were looking at each other like, “Why is he caring so much about us?” And we really never felt that before and I think what that did, it ignited us to try to… Because he delivered a presence where he believed in every last one of his students. And so, when we had someone believing in us so much, we never really wanted to let him down. So, it pretty much made everybody come up with their A game and to really focus on what he was teaching us.”

Mr. Kling’s class soon caught the eye of the nation. Michelle Norris covered the class for several years which showed the excellence of the students under Mr. Kling’s teachings.

The documentary introduces us to Mr. Kling, who is now in his 70’s and some of his students.  We feel his passion and emotion in his belief in the students.  Some have kept in contact with him throughout the years.  We also feel his pain as a white teacher ashamed of how the affluent have mentally, financially, and emotionally suppressed people of color in order to make themselves feel entitled.

Demetrius describes his documentary as a love story between a teacher and his students. In watching it, I understand why he felt the need to make it.

Who did Demetrius Matthews grow up to be? He started his own IT Distribution and Consulting Firm and has become one of the largest IT distributors and resellers in his sector.

A great teacher can educate, empower and uplift. “Kling: A Teacher Who Defied The System” is a tribute to one such extraordinary educator. In the West Side of Chicago in the mid-80s, 33-year-old Thomas Kling vowed to transform the lives of dozens of students lost in the pressure cooker of drugs and racism. His profound and lasting impact now shines in a documentary created by the very lives he saved.

Kling: A Teacher Who Defied The System can be viewed on Amazon Prime.

Until next time, keep your EYE to the sky!


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