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Niles North High School | Skokie, IL

North Star News

Niles North High School | Skokie, IL

North Star News

Andy Klamm, Chemistry teacher, Head tennis coach

Mr. Andy Klamm, Niles North Chemistry teacher and Head tennis coach.
Mr. Andy Klamm, Niles North Chemistry teacher and Head tennis coach.

What is your name and profession? Andy Klamm. I teach chemistry and I coached tennis teams at Niles North.

Can you tell me a little about where you grew up? I grew up in a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina. For most of my youth, and then, in high school, I moved to Mt. Prospect and went to Hersey High School in Arlington Heights for three years. Then I went back to North Carolina for college, UNC at Chapel Hill, and I came back to Illinois and got a master’s at Northwestern. So, it’s been back and forth between North Carolina and Illinois.

Which one do you prefer—Illinois or North Carolina? You know, I really, that I like both of them. I really loved North Carolina, I think the weather is great. And I loved the fact that it had seasons, but they weren’t as stark as here. Like here, it will get cold and snow in the winter, but then a day later, it’ll be 55 degrees. And it was a different kind of winter. I like it here, now, because I would not be able to really do what I wanted to do in North Carolina; their education system isn’t as sustainable for high school teachers. So, I’m glad I’m here with the profession that I have.

Speaking of high school, if you got a master’s at Northwestern and you helped write the AP exam and things like that, why would you choose to stay in high school and not go on to college or something else? That’s a great question. There’s probably three reasons. I did research in college, and I loved it. But I knew that it wasn’t something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. High school is one of the only places that allows me to pursue both of my major passions, which are teaching and coaching. Everywhere else, I could either be a tennis pro, or a college professor or college tennis coach, but I couldn’t do both. So, this allows both. And then I think the biggest reason I went into it was because for most of my life, every person who I encountered who had taken Chemistry always had a negative reaction to it. So, I chose to make it one of my life’s missions to change the narrative on that. And I don’t say that everyone [who takes it] loves Chemistry, but I hope that every student that leaves it at least doesn’t groan and feel like it’s one of the worst things they’ve ever done.

How has your tennis career been? As a player, I started playing when I was about 11, and I just loved the sport. So after, I started playing about 40 or 50 hours a week basically right from the start. I played a lot of national tournaments while I was going through high school; it was great. I played on the high school team that [went] all-state a couple times. Then I went to North Carolina because I liked all of the things that it had to offer and passed up a couple tennis scholarships to do that. I ended up walking onto the team, but Division One tennis was not sustainable. They had, like, a nine hour time commitment every day for tennis and I was double-majoring in Chemistry and Math, and that just wasn’t going to work. So I helped run the club tennis team then for the rest of college and that was amazing. We still played five times a week and we won the national championship at the club level twice–it was fun…. About coaching—coaching has been great. I’m coming up on my 44th Boys season coaching, because I coach the girls and the boys and it’s great. This is my third school [where] I’ve done it at, and it’s great. You get kids who have never picked up a racquet before and you hopefully get them to enjoy the sport. And then, I’ve been fortunate enough to have some really good players. I think I’ve had 26 state qualifiers over my coaching career, so it’s been nice.

Who are the most famous people that you’ve ever met? Well, Bill Nye and I did a couple of presentations together at national conferences. And then when I went back to North Carolina one time to visit, we went to Michael Jordan’s restaurant, and he invited us to have lunch with him. So probably those two.

Could you tell me a little bit about your lunch with Michael Jordan? It was a pretty random experience. We went to the [his] restaurant before the game; we were all decked out in our stuff, and it was really busy. We had a reservation, and we were having trouble getting a table. So ultimately, we waited a bit, and then the person said, “Mr. Jordan would like to know if you’d like to have lunch with him instead.” And there he was, and we had lunch with him…. [By then,] he had already won all six championships.” He was fine [to eat with]. I think it helped that we were wearing North Carolina stuff, because he loves the university, he went to school there. I wouldn’t say we had deep conversations about life, but he was willing to share about himself, which was really neat. We asked him a lot about experiences he had had, and he talked about them, and it was cool. [He] gave us about an hour, and then he said he was going to head out. But that hour with him was pretty special.

What is your favorite memory from high school? I don’t know if I have a specific memory. I think I was pretty fortunate that, in most areas of my life, I’ve been able to find people I relate to and we get along really well. And most of my favorite memories were during classes and study groups of people that I found; we would go study at the library for some things, [and] we had a really good understanding of each other, so we were able to be productive, but also have fun and take some breaks and do random trivia with each other and then get back to business. That’s kind of the sustaining thing that helped me enjoy most of high school. And then sports and Orchestra were also the things that I committed the most time to and then, you know, there were things like the all-state Orchestra which was really fun. I did that a couple times. State tennis was also hosted at my high school. So, the one time we were in, I forgot where round it was. My partner and I had made it a pretty decent way in the state tournament, and they decided that in the round, any student in the high school could be excused from class if they would come watch our match. So we had, like, 1000 kids watching our tennis match. And that was kind of fun, a pretty unique experience. Most [of them went] because they wanted to be out of school, but it was nice to have the support.

What is your greatest accomplishment? Oh, I don’t know if I have one. I mean, I think my greatest professional accomplishments are just looking at the success that former students have had. There’s a lot of doctors, there’s a lot of dentists, there’s a lot of people who have gone into Science, and then I think I have about nine former students now who are high school Chemistry teachers who give me some credit for inspiring them to do the same. So it gives me a lot of pride to know that I gave people a good enough experience that it was something that they ended up doing themselves. Man, I have seven pairs of former students that I’ve attended their weddings. So, that’s kind of fun—like, they were lab partners in high school, and they’re now married. I take no credit for that.

Just going back to: do you have any plans to, maybe, in the future stop doing high school and go on to something else? I don’t. I really like what I’m doing. You know, I like what I’m doing so much that at the point where I get enough years to retire, I am already trying to figure out how to continue to teach or do that in a different school setting potentially, but continue to be involved with Chemistry and Tennis in the same way I am because that’s what gives my life a lot of purpose.

If you could meet anyone in the world alive or deceased, who would it be and why? There are a lot of people in history like Martin Luther King, who were able to simply, through their words and their actions, bring together and inspire a lot of people. Someone like him probably is someone who I could learn a lot from, because I think I’m good at creating a great environment with kids. [And] then, to also have the ability to use passionate words to inspire people would continue to make me a better person. So, probably someone like Martin Luther King.

What is the craziest thing that has ever happened to you? It’s really not much. Probably—when I was working on Habitat for Humanity in college, and I was working on a ladder to finish the shingles on a roof, I was knocked off the ladder. I shattered my leg and the bottom bone of my leg stuck straight out of [it]. That was probably the craziest experience that I [ever] had, breaking all the bones in my legs simultaneously.

What scene in a movie has evoked the most feelings out of you? Oh man, I’m a crier in movies, I’ll be honest. The ending of E.T., probably. [I] still cry every time I watch the end of E.T. really hard… I don’t know why that, but my parents had to turn off the movie when I was little and then my son got into it, so he wanted to watch it and I didn’t make it through the end of E.T. that time either. So, just the culmination of everything that goes on in that movie to him leaving has always been a lot emotionally.

Do you have a favorite movie? I don’t have [an] official favorite movie, I like a lot of [movies]. I kind of break it down into genres and like different types of movies. The movies I tend to like best are, like, mystery action movies; there’s a movie called Enemy of the State that’s one of my favorites, it’s got Will Smith and Gene Hackman.

Do you have any hidden talents that most people don’t know about? I don’t. I wish I did but I definitely don’t.

If you could un-invent something, what would you choose and why? The easy answer is, like, the cell phone, but the cell phone is so valuable that you don’t want to un-invent it…. It’s something I can’t pinpoint exactly. It’s definitely something on social media, and it’s not social media in general, but it’s the part of social media that encouraged people to anonymously comment and bully other people; that would be the one thing that I think that I would want to have a better safeguard in place for so that that didn’t exist anymore.

Do you have any advice for people that are thinking about taking AP Chemistry next year? I think it’s important to talk to students to know exactly what you’re getting into and what the experience will be, but I think taking on challenges in life is important, and as long as you’re in a headspace and a place that you’re ready and excited to take on a challenge, then there really is no advice except for just going at it with your full self. As long as you’re willing to commit yourself to it, I feel like I could get most people to be successful in the course, but you have to come at it with the right attitude in order for that to happen.

What’s the best decision you’ve ever made? Marrying my wife, because she’s an amazing lady. She’s just one of those people that, like, from the moment I had one conversation with her, I could tell that she was just someone that was going to consistently improve me as a person and allow me to be my full self.

Could you talk a little bit more about how you met your wife? We met shortly after college—well, I was after college, she was in college. After one of my friends’ weddings we happened to be in the same place at the same time, and like I said, from the first moment that I interacted with her I knew she was the right person. We ended up being long distance for the first several years because I was getting my master’s and teaching here while she was still in North Carolina. But, it ended up being easy; we just flew back and forth and were with each other because we really wanted to be, so you kind of knew it was right.

Do you have a favorite place that you’ve ever traveled? It’s a great question. I really loved Glacier National Park. It’s one of the most naturally beautiful places I’ve ever been, which is in the north part of Montana. Hiking, camping, mountains, lakes, waterfalls—it was really beautiful. It was a great week we spent there.

Do you hike a lot? We used to, we’ll get back to it pretty soon. We did a lot of it, and then my son was too young to take more sustained hikes. Now that he’s older, we’ll get back into doing a lot of national parks again.

Can you talk a little bit about your feeling that you were somebody else in a past life? Well, I just have memories of it and, like, I don’t know that it existed or not. But, as I think back about experiences that I remember, it just seems like I remember things that were not from this life and were from a different life.

If you woke up to be the last person alive on Earth, what would you do first? Try and figure out why everyone died.

What would you do next? I don’t know. I feel like most of the experiences that I have are always with someone else. Like, my wife always gets mad because I always tend to be in the same space as someone all the time and she likes a lot of time on her own, and then I’m always sitting next to her because I want to be around other people. So, I would be pretty lonely if it was just me. I’m not sure what I would do next.

If you could solve one problem in the world with the snap of your fingers, what would it be? Probably climate change. I mean, it’s affecting so many things. There’s so many more natural disasters and issues that we’re running into, [and] that’s just at the beginning. So, if there is a way to stop that process, that would be something I would do in a heartbeat.

If your life had a movie title, what would it be? I don’t know. It would not be exciting.

Do you have anything else to say to anybody who’s going to be reading the story? No, I mean, I think the part that to me is the hardest about teaching is that we have so many amazing students in the school and I can only meet a certain number of them. So, just try and reach out and meet as many people as you can, because we have a pretty great space here for you. The more people you know, the better of a person you are.

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About the Contributor
Yoni Soloveychik
Yoni Soloveychik, Asst. People Editor
Yoni Soloveychik is a sophomore at Niles North. This is his second year writing for NSN and he likes a lot of different things.

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