Stevenson High P.E. teacher honored with state award as she prepares to retire

Stevenson High School physical education teacher Vicky Nordhem will hang up her gym shoes next month as she ends an award-winning 35-year career.

Nordhem described her pending retirement as bittersweet. She said she'll miss her peers, and of course she'll miss the students.

"I really loved being a role model to the students and to be able to teach them things that they can use their whole lives," said Nordhem, 57, of Hawthorn Woods.

It's that kind of dedication that just this week landed Nordhem a tremendous honor: She was named the 2015 high school physical education teacher of the year by the Illinois Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

Nordhem had won a district award from the group in March, which put her into the running for the state prize. She's now eligible for a Midwest award and possible national recognition.

"I'm very honored," she said. "It feels like you have accomplished something in your life, and people recognize that."

Nordhem, who grew up in Glenview, was inspired to become a P.E. teacher by one of her instructors at Glenbrook South High School, Jane Wright.

"(She) encouraged me all the time and asked me to go out for sports and was always in good shape," Nordhem explained. "She was my motivator. And I was like, 'You know what? That's what I want to do.'"

Nordhem began teaching in 1979, first at Twin Groves Junior High School in Buffalo Grove and then briefly in Wauconda Unit District 118.

The following year she moved to Hawthorn School in Vernon Hills, where she taught physical education and coached sports until 1993.

Nordhem jumped to Stevenson High that year. In addition to teaching at Stevenson, she's coached the various boys and girls volleyball teams.

Nordhem will continue coaching after she stops teaching.

Stevenson High spokesman Jim Conrey is among Nordhem's fans.

"She makes phys ed fun," Conrey said. "Sometimes phys ed can be a drag for students, but she does a really nice job of keeping them engaged and making it a fun activity, so that when they leave Stevenson they're still interested in exercise and working out."

Stevenson freshman Alex Cuc said she enjoys having Nordhem as her P.E. teacher.

"She's really funny," Cuc said. "She's nice. She can be strict at times, but I guess you have to be."

Nordhem didn't contest the "strict" label. But she also noted she has a different relationship with her students than traditional classroom teachers.

"I feel like I'm a psychologist, I'm a counselor, I'm a mom," she said. "(I'm) teaching them lifetime fitness, and how to be a woman in this world."

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  Stevenson physical education teacher Vicky Nordhem also has coached teams, including volleyball. Steve Lundy/
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