“I said I am in the wrong profession; that was it,” Ms. Kling said, explaining why she later went into education.
She has spent more than two decades teaching and was recently named Region VII Secondary Teacher of the Year.
Caring about students and developing a relationship with them is the most important characteristic for a teacher, Ms. Kling said, maintaining that knowledge content is not the most important quality.
“I believe you need knowledge of content” in a subject being taught, Ms. Kling said, but what's more important, she said, is to first build a relationship with students and to care about them.
She said she has seen teachers who were a genius who didn't or couldn't relate to students.
“You have to build some sort of community in your classroom and in your school and that is the most important thing … kids don't care what you know until they know that you care,” Ms. Kling said.
There's absolutely nothing a teacher will be able to do with at risk struggling students if they don't think that a teacher cares about them, Ms. Kling said, adding that academically talented students will succeed anyway.
“You have to care about who they are and where they come from. You have to let your guard down a little bit and share something about yourself and you become human to them.”
The second most important thing for a teacher is to have a bag of tricks … different teaching strategies, Ms. Kling said. “You have to mix it up,” she said of classroom presentations, and learn how to break it apart and convey to students that if they master a lesson, then they can do something else.
Then the third most important characteristic for a teacher, Ms. Kling said, “is you have to know what you are teaching, know what you are doing. But I don't think that matters if you don't have a relationship with your kids.”
Ms. Kling, who has taught art at Athens High School for 3½ years and has a total 22 years experience in education, represents 17 East Texas counties as regional secondary teacher of the year and a nominee for the 2013 Texas Teacher of the Year. She has a degree from The University of Texas at Arlington.
Ms. Kling said she did not earn the award by herself because she has help in teaching from friends, contacts, peers and the community at the school.
She teaches art and drawing and serves as prom coordinator and one-act play assistant director at Athens High School.
According to Region VII Education Service Center, Ms. Kling was selected because she exhibited concern for students, worked well with others, improved instruction, stayed up to date on educational theories and practices and for her contributions to education.
Ms. Kling has taught many subjects and grade levels and spent the majority of her teaching career in Mansfield, although she also taught five years with Department of Defense Dependent Schools in Okinawa, Japan.
After Mansfield ISD cut her art position due to funding issues and assigned Ms. Kling to teach English ESL, she accepted a drastic pay cut in order to teach art in Athens, which is the subject she wanted to teach.
“They are very welcoming; I very much like the small town atmosphere,” Ms. Kling said about teaching in Athens.
She said she has a “mixture of kids” — students who are art enthusiasts and creative and also students who are in art classes simply because they need fine arts credit for graduation but don't want to be in band or choir or theater arts.
Ms. Kling provides all of them with exposure to art mediums and practice with the mediums. Sometimes she lets them choose a topic on their own and sometimes she tells them it has to be an animal or a nature scene, etc.
Mediums used in her classes include clay, wire, paper mache, acrylic paint, water color, charcoal, ebony pencil and colored pencils.
“I give them strategies that will help them become more successful…” she said, explaining that she grades them according to how they follow directions, not on whether they create a masterpiece.
“You learn from the kids, too,” Ms. Kling said. “A lot of times the kids will teach you something,” she noted, recalling a student who came up with a perfect way of shadowing and shading a picture.
The challenge facing all of education, not just in Athens, is apathy among students, Ms. Kling said. She firmly believes that building relationships with students is an answer.
Although she is in her sixth year of teaching art, Ms. Kling says she still feels like a new art teacher. “I think every time you do something, you become better at teaching it,” Ms. Kling said.
She tries to do things differently every year. “I'm not one of those teachers who comes up with a curriculum for the year and reteaches that same curriculum the next year. Every year is new and different,” Ms. Kling said.
She really likes kids and dealing with them. “They keep me young; they make you laugh,” she said. Ms. Kling thinks she will always be a teacher and doesn't see herself ever going into administration.