Teacher of the Year Embraces French and GuardChris Frick
From humble beginnings in a small town in Indiana, Brayton Mendenhall has achieved at every level of his performing and teaching career. Being named 2021 Ben Davis HS (IN) Teacher of the Year and a finalist for 2022 Indiana Teacher of the Year has given him validation that he is doing the right work. Mendenhall has been teaching French for 10 years, nine of which have been at Ben Davis.
Mendenhall is in the world language department teaching French 3 Honors, AP French 4 and French 5 Honors. He has also been a color guard instructor for 20 years, the last three at Zionsville Community HS (IN). Being a full-time classroom teacher and an instructor requires a good amount of time. “I find that my life is consumed with teaching and directing, but those are the things I truly enjoy doing,” he said.
”I don’t know that I have much of a work/life balance since I dedicate so much of my time to work however, I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing since teaching is what I love.”
Mendenhall has been able to help his students accomplish many milestones during his career. “It is hard to pin down an accomplishment that means the most to me or that has been the most rewarding. I love the competitive successes that my color guard teams have had over the years, but I also love watching my students grow and learn to communicate in a new language. If I had to choose a most rewarding situation, it would be when any of my students study abroad. I have had a few students participate in study abroad through several different programs, and to see them flourish in those programs is so rewarding for me,” Mendenhall said.
Brayton has traveled a few times with his French classes to Canada and Louisiana. Next summer they are planning a trip to France. Mendenhall said, “Whenever we plan a trip to a francophone community, I try to be sure that wherever we go includes a place or cultural aspect of our curriculum.” By aligning their travel with their studies, students get to see first-hand what they have read about. “I think that this particular opportunity is a selling point for many of our travelers,” he said.
”I’m a sort of cheerleader in the classroom. I try to be as exciting as possible in everything I do, so I think that I tend to be a salesman of sorts when trying to garner interest in a travel program.”
Mendenhall works hard to improve his department at Ben Davis. “I think that my most influential impact on the world language department has been my push for a more diverse French curriculum. Each time that we have adopted new textbooks, the exposure to many different francophone cultures has been a strong factor in that decision,” he said. Often, when students learn French culture, the studies are very Eurocentric. However, there are so many places around the world where French is spoken. It is important to me that our curriculum reflects that diversity,” Mendenhall said.
Encourgaing distance learning through group travel leads to many educational benefits. During his travels, he has realized the importance of these experiences. “The benefits [of group travel] are endless! First, students get the chance to see something they’ve only read about come to life before their very eyes. That’s the sort of learning that is most meaningful to students,” he said.
“Second, and perhaps more importantly, [group travel] gives students the courage to become world travelers. If they have had an experience traveling away from home, students are more likely to travel again alone after high school. By traveling and seeing other cultures, students can begin to appreciate how many amazing and different kinds of people there are in the world.”
Mendenhall was honored as 2021 Teacher of the Year at Ben Davis HS (IN). “I don’t know that [Teacher of the Year] has or even will change my career. I love teaching. It’s part of who I am. More than anything, it has given me the validation that I am doing things right,” said Mendenhall.
In the evenings and weekends, Brayton can be found in a gym or on a football field pursuing his other passion, color guard. Mendenhall was a member of the Taylor HS (IN) color guard. After graduation, he spent two years as a performer with the Winter Guard International (WGI) unit Pride of Cincinnati winter guard. He said, “With this experience, and the encouragement and guidance of my high school instructors, I started working as a technician for several groups in my hometown. From there, I expanded my role from technician to choreographer and then advanced to being a director.”
With 20 years of teaching under his belt, Brayton doesn’t anticipate a lot of change in his future. In 10 years, I see myself, “right here in my classroom teaching another generation of [Ben Davis] Giants to love French,” said Mendenhall.