“When I was in third grade at Wilson School, I'd hide the teacher's pens. Just looking for attention, I guess. She found them easily, and never punished me, maybe because I was a pretty good student, too. Well, one day when it was time to line up for recess, Miss Fluke said I had to stay behind. I remember feeling my mouth drop open and hearing the other kids snicker and seeing them shake their heads. But I also remember figuring that, whatever my punishment was, I certainly had it coming.”
“After the kids left, she pulled a box from her closet and sat with me. She pulled out small sticks—dowels—and red and green yarn. I watched her start, then she had me try it. She was teaching me to make ‘God's Eyes’—los ojos de dios. By the end of recess I had a small, slightly puffy ‘God's Eye’ in my book bag to take home, and a secret to keep with my teacher.”
“That year I learned to read really well, and that year I saw my teacher cry when our president was killed,” recalled Tad Phippen Wente, who will teach two creative writing seminars at Mosaic and all of the creative writing seminars at IDEAS Academy this fall.
Teachers like Miss Fluke had such an impact on Tad’s life that it seems only natural that she became a teacher. That wasn’t her original plan, however. After graduating from South High School in 1973, she headed to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for its music program.
“Soon, however, the voices in my head became louder than the music, so I switched to creative writing,” Tad said. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1976, a Secondary English Teacher Certification in 1977, a Secondary Journalism Teacher Certification in 1989, and a master of arts degree in English: Creative Writing in 1993.
Tad, 55, has been with the Sheboygan Area School District since the 1980-81 school year. She started as a long-term substitute and then continued as a language arts teacher at Farnsworth, North and South. Tad advised the newspaper and yearbook staffs at South as well. She went on to teach creative writing, newspaper and journalism at North. Tad was a founding member at Etude High School and taught creative writing and language arts there all five years.
She believes charter schools are beneficial to districts because of the creativity they afford teachers and students alike.
“Creativity is so crucial to human beings,” she shared. “Building something new is what makes us thrive! So creating a school has been continuously exciting and rewarding. The students sense this, too, and say they feel this is something special. The small community allows us all to get to know each other, like family, and this promotes a really positive learning environment. After teaching for over 30 years, this is just plain refreshing!”
Tad and her husband, Mark, make their home in Port Washington. Mark is a senior engineering technician/construction inspector for a Milwaukee-based company and is presently working on various aspects of the MMSD deep tunnel project. Their daughter, Hannah, 23, is the outreach coordinator for the American Parkinson Disease Association at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison.
A published poet, her work can be seen in the 2010 Wisconsin Poet’s Calendar and in Verse Wisconsin. One of Tad’s poems was animated for Poetry Everywhere as part of a joint project last year between John Michael Kohler Arts Center and Etude. Two of her poems will appear in the November issue of Verse Wisconsin Online as part of its “Earthworks” project.
“I am grateful now to be working in an environment that encourages teachers to do what they teach - in other words, to 'make art', whether that means composing and recording music, creating and exhibiting visual art, seeking and sharing history, or growing plants and designing landscapes. We are allowed to do what we do!”
“I do hope to publish a chapbook or two in the future, and possibly write a memoire of place. We shall see,” Tad said. “For now it's small works—and plenty of rejection letters!”
Tad learned so much more than simple textbook lessons from instructors like Miss Fluke. She hopes she’s making that kind of impact on her students today and that someday they will have the opportunity – in their own way – to pay it forward.