Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Evan's Heel

Although this post dovetails fairly nicely with the last two, it's actually been vaguely in my thoughts for quite a while now. It's about Evan, who is a very nice and extremely talented guy. I admire Evan a lot although I might appear not to as I use him as a bit of a whipping boy for the purposes of this post. Actually, the post isn't really about Evan; I simply use him as an example of what I think is a universal truth: that there is a very fine line between our personality strengths and weaknesses.

I taught with Evan, was his department head for six years. He was actually my main competition for the job, but I got it, and, although he thought he was the better candidate, he never harboured a grudge against me. He did rather hold some animosity against the people who made the choice, I think, but never made it personal between the two of us.

Evan was my antithesis: an extrovert of huge proportions to my introvert. Unlike the easily tongue-tied me who almost needs to write things out before he speaks, Evan's brain actually engaged when he began to speak, and could he ever speak! It wasn't vacuous verbiage either; he knew a lot about a lot and seemed to remember almost everything that he read. He was able to weave such interesting and diverse threads into his lessons and, somehow, always get around to the point. I once told him that I could give him any topic on the first day of class and that he could start with that topic, weave it into the course material in some magical way and keep going for the whole school year.

And that was the problem!

He could, in point of fact, keep it going for the whole school year, and — he did! Yes, he did! Believe it or not, he talked or lectured almost every minute of every period for the whole course. It didn't matter whether he was teaching a non-academic, freshman high school class or an advanced, senior, academic group, for Evan had one lesson plan for each and every day — talk ... and talk.

Every day, every period, a group of students would walk into his room and would sit down for the 75 minute session. Evan would open his mouth and begin to speak. He would speak for 75 minutes. This, folks, was not the height of advanced and perspicacious, pedagogical approaches. Students, especially the younger ones, are known to have short attention spans. Supposedly, teachers should find a variety of activities to keep their young charges fresh and stimulated. But that didn't concern Evan.

You see, he thought he was great, that the kids loved him and hung on his every word. He never clued into the fact that most of them were gone for about 70 of the 75 minutes. An introvert would have been more sensitive and read the cues better, but not Evan.

Don't get me wrong. He was wonderfully interesting — to me! a mature adult, who frequently listened in amazement from the department office just off the back of Evan's classroom. I constantly admired his knowledge and his oratory. He was truly remarkable but out of touch with adolescent reality and, in effect, the exact opposite of what he thought he was. For he was not the great teacher that he supposed — far from it. He was smart and talented but not a good teacher, not for secondary school level anyway. His brain and abilities dwarfed mine, but in one unfortunate year when we had to share a class (take turns — weeks on and weeks off), one of our lesser-light students once confided to me that while Evan was a nice guy, he never learned anything when Evan was in charge.

My point isn't to slag Evan, and I would feel simply awful if he ever read this, which he wouldn't. No, my point is this: that every person and personality type has his or her strengths and weaknesses and that it can be quite a challenge to maximize the former and minimize the latter. Evan had a rare gift, but, in my opinion, he abused it, and it actually became his achillies heel. It's easy to do. In my case, my introversion gives me the gift of being fairly self-motivated, self-reliant, and competent, but, on the flip side, I tend to let myself become too isolated and independent.

I think there really is a fine edge between any trait being a strength or becoming a weakness. It's my guess that most us us cross back and forth over that line. Perhaps awareness can lead us to spend more time on the good side of the line than the bad. And if you ever read this, Evan, I respect and admire you, for you am what I ain't.


Gina said...

It's not necessarily about what talents you have, it's what you DO with them!

Cathy said...

Lots of wisdom here. I suspect you've reasoned this so well, that Evan would agree with your assessment of who he was.(and then he'd deck you:0D

Heather said...

Yeah, I think you're dead on. It all depends how we use our skills and personalities whether they end up being strengths or weaknesses.

I always feel a little pschyzophrenic when it comes to introvert/extrovert. I've done the test several times and I'm always close to the border line. I used to always fall on the extrovert side of the line, but lately, I've shifted to just over the line on the introvert side.

Pearl said...

Yes, the story rings familiar. I'm going to have to get in line behind you for that book.

Simply Coll said...

Our individuality never ceases to amaze. We are all so different in our strengths and our weaknesses. It is that very individuality that is both our curse and our blessing.