Petermann spent entire career in Clintonville
By Bert Lehman
After 36 years as a physical education teacher in the Clintonville School District, Karen Petermann is retiring.
It’s the only job that Petermann has held since graduating from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse in December 1987, but it’s a job she almost didn’t pursue.
Her teaching internship was in Rochester, Minnesota. At the time, Petermann said Clintonville’s physical education teacher passed away mid-year, and she was asked to interview for the position.
“I interviewed and I got the job and I haven’t left yet,” she said. “This was my first job and only job.”
Petermann admitted that she almost turned down the interview request.
“I wasn’t even going to interview for the job because I felt like I took a heavy load in college, credit-wise, and I was just going to go back home (in Gilman, Wisconsin),” Petermann recalled. “I grew up on a dairy farm and I was going to help my brother milk cows, bale hay for the rest of the semester, and be a sub in my hometown. But my mom convinced me I should apply for the job, so I did.”
Petermann said her mother, who was a physical education teacher, was and will forever be her role model.
“Probably the part I most remember about my mom was that she really cared about doing her lessons for every single day,” Petermann said. “A lot of times phy ed people may roll out the ball and make it not be something that’s really planned. My mom always did that (had a plan), so she was definitely the reason I became a phy ed teacher.”
After interviewing for the position in Clintonville, Petermann said she was offered the job that same night.
“I did take the job,” Petermann said. “I love the people, and everybody was so welcoming. I will say this was a great place to have a career.”
Hired for physical education, Petermann said she also taught health classes in Clintonville. She added that while in Clintonville, she has taught at the high school, middle school and elementary school.
“I’ve loved every level that I’ve gone to, but elementary is kind of where I love to be,” she said. “The kids just fill your bucket every day. And they’re learning so many things, and I feel we’re in a place where it’s so formative. We can have such an influence on, not only their skills, but who they are as people. If I can teach my kids how to be good people while they’re learning all my skills, I think I’ve done a good job.”
Petermann said the decision to retire now was difficult.
“I love my kids, and I love the people I work with,” Petermann said. “I couldn’t have had a better place to call home and learn how to be a teacher, and just the families that are here.”
The fact that the remodeled middle school will become the elementary school next school year played a factor in Petermann’s retirement decision.
“This old building was built in 1918 and this will always be my home,” Petermann said. “This is my teaching space and I’ve loved every minute of it. Even the old, old part and whatnot. That was part of it. The new move can be a place for a new person to start.”
During her teaching career, Petermann said she has had the honor of winning many teaching awards.
“I’ve been pretty lucky in being at the right place at the right time,” Petermann said. “I was the Wisconsin State Teacher of the Year and the Midwest Teacher of the Year and the National Physical Education Teacher of the Year.
She won the national award in 2017, and she said it opened opportunities to speak at conferences across the country.
“It brought about a new part of my teaching career because I was able to present at a lot of conferences,” Petermann said. “That was something that I really prided myself in is being a lifelong learner and never being satisfied with what I was doing. I attended a lot of conferences throughout my career, a lot of national conferences. Then when I was chosen as teacher of the year then I was required to go present at different places, so I got to travel the country for a year and a half.”
She said she met a lot of people while traveling across the country.
“Networking is big part of education,” Petermann said. “I always felt like if I just stayed in the walls of Clintonville that I wouldn’t bring the best to my school kids and I feel like being able to travel out and about that I brought them a lot of things that we normally wouldn’t have had.”
The presentations Petermann made at conferences were tailored to the state she was presenting in, and its needs.
“For my classes, I always had three goals for my kids,” Petermann said. “One of them was to get better at whatever they’re doing. The second one is that they pass a sweat test, which means we just work hard. And the third one is we have fun. I feel like if I can incorporate those into my lessons, that everybody comes back for more.”
Petermann said the running club at the elementary school is a highlight of her career. The running club started as part of an action plan to help fight the obesity epidemic.
“It became my project during one of the RECESS classes through UW-Madison,” Petermann said. “We started with eight kids and two adults and over the course of time grew to include students of all ages as well as members from the community. We even had grandmas and grandpas on our team. Several staff members, parents, and running enthusiasts were all mentors in our club. We had 27 adults volunteer.
“Running the hallways of the 1918 building before school, running the streets of Clintonville as the sun was coming up, eating and visiting over our breakfast, competing at one 5K each month, doing community service projects, and helping kids accomplish more than they ever imagined were highlights of Running Club. Our largest number of runners for any event was 134. It was at the Sturgeon Shuffle in New London. Seeing a sea of orange runners was awesome. The running Club will always have a special place in my heart.”
Unfortunately, after nine years, the running club ceased to exist because of the Covid pandemic. Petermann said she hopes someone will reform the running club in the future.
Petermann said she had many memories of her career in Clintonville. One of the highlights she mentioned was being able to teach with her husband.
“He also taught phy ed, so his last four years of teaching, we got to teach together, which was pretty cool,” Petermann said.
She also said grant writing was a big part of her career.
“We got the PEP grant in 2002, which was for $441,644,” she said. “It was the second year that the grant was available and our school district got it.”
She said the PEP grant was a huge boost to the district’s physical education program.
“It allowed us to expose our students to such a wide variety of lifetime activities,” Petermann said. “My goal has always been to help students make connections between the lessons that I teach and their lives outside of school. My hope is that students find several activities that they love to do and that they will continue to enjoy them throughout their lives.”
In all, Petermann said she secured just over half-a-million dollars in grant funds during her teaching career.
Even with those accomplishments, Petermann said her fondest memories revolve around her co-workers, the students she taught, and the families of those students.
“Being an elementary physical education teacher, I get to know all 486 kids in our buildings,” Petermann said. “Watching each of them grow and blossom from kindergarten through fifth grade has been really a blessing for me.”
She said she will miss the kids the most.
“Kids keep you young,” she said. “And sharing my love and energy with the kids. I really hope every student that I’ve had feels like they felt safe and enjoyed spending their time with me, because I sure enjoyed spending my time with them.”