Blake Mellencamp graduated from Ball State University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in Teaching English/Language Arts. While at Ball State, he was a member of the Honors College, and he also took part in a Virginia Ball Center for Creative Inquiry project. He is currently an English teacher at Zionsville Middle School, where he teaches his classes with a reading and writing workshop approach.
What did you study while at Ball State?
At Ball State, I studied English Education as my major. I was a part of the Honors College and was also part of a Virginia Ball Center for Creative Inquiry project, in which a team of students created a digital textbook about Indiana history for 4th grade students.
Why did you choose to study English Ed, and why did you choose Ball State?
The answers to both of these questions start at the Indiana Academy, the residential high school for gifted and talented students on Ball State’s campus. After attending the Academy for 11th and 12th grade, I realized what a profound transformational effect a quality education can have on a person. I wanted to help other people enjoy the same growth that I did at the Academy. It truly is one of Ball State’s most oft-overlooked treasures.
In addition to my experience at the Indiana Academy, my father had also served on the school board back home. My sister (who also ended up in the education field as a school counselor) and I were always privy to late night phone conversations tackling the myriad of issues facing public education. It seemed that this was an area with important, meaningful work to be done. Ball State University seemed like a natural fit. It had a great reputation as a teachers college, dating all the way back to the Eastern Indiana Normal School – a teacher training facility started in 1899 housed in what would become the BSU administration building. Besides, BSU and Muncie already felt like home after studying at the Academy for two years. After all, who could complain with four extra years of shopping at Village Green Records or drinking coffee at The Cup?
What does a typical week look like for you?
I’m currently in my fifth year of teaching at Zionsville Middle School. Zionsville Community Schools is a fantastic district that gives their teachers a lot of autonomy as to how they want to teach, so I’m able to experiment with a lot of new and exciting educational approaches. My typical week begins with planning lessons. Much of the lesson content, however, is directed by the students themselves because I use a reading and writing workshop approach in my classroom. Students have a great degree of choice in the books they read and the pieces they write. We try to make our class activities look as close to the work flow of a real-life writer as possible, so our days are filled by a short mini-lesson followed by a period of brainstorming, drafting, revising, conferencing, editing, etc.
When I’m not teaching, I’m leading different clubs such as our chess club, creative writing club, magazine club, or participating in our school’s Think Tank, a professional development book club for teachers. Outside of school, I’m usually watching live music, listening to a poetry reading, or enjoying a good book, film, or play. When I’m not enjoying the creative works of others, I’m either writing or performing my own music or other work. (As a Mellencamp, I think I’m legally obligated to do some songwriting or I might get kicked out of the family 😉 )
What are the most valuable skills you learned as an English Ed major? How have they helped you post-graduation?
All of Ball State’s pedagogy and methods courses gave me a strong basis for making decisions in the classroom. Sure, there are some things that you can only learn through actually being in the classroom, but without a strong knowledge base to draw on, I don’t think I would have had the success I’ve had as a teacher. The English Ed major set the groundwork that let me become the teacher I am today.
Could you describe your work with the Indiana Writing Project?
The Indiana Writing Project is one of our state’s chapters of the National Writing Project, a wonderful organization that empowers teachers to better teach writing skills through evidence-based means. This year, I was fortunate enough to attend their Invitational Learning Institute thanks to Susanna Benko and Matt Hartman, as well as the support of Zionsville Community Schools.
The program facilitates each of its members as they build upon their own writing identity – one of the philosophies underlying the IWP is that teachers of writing are writers themselves. We also learn strategies and design workshops to implement in our own classrooms. We are still meeting with our group through November, but my experience is culminating in a project I’m very excited about. I’ve entered production on an educational web series all about the intersection of writing and history that provides hands-on learning activities to teachers and students. It will be titled, Oh, The Humanities and you’ll be able to find it on a YouTube near you in December of this year.