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Assignments Matter 2.0: Vulnerability...Honesty...Truth

Assignments Matter 2.0: Vulnerability...Honesty...Truth

Written by Darnese Olivieri
July 20, 2018

The external assignment: Write a blog about any aspect of your experience over the past two years with Assignments Matter (AM) 2.0?

The internal response: What do they really want me to blog about?

That is the question I spent the past three days ruminating over. And now I’m going to be fully transparent. I believed my initial thoughts in completing this assignment should have been consumed with sorting through and deciding on the most impactful, valuable and/or meaningful aspects of the two year National Writing Project initiative I spent countless hours, energy and mental space committed to growing in and developing. And before the time drew nigh to submit my blog, that is exactly what muddled my thinking and induced my anxiety. But then I set aside quiet time and still space to sit and write. The moment had arrived. It had been some time, but my initial thoughts were still somewhere floating around in the recesses of my mind. My open laptop screen beamed bright. The keys stared back at me ready to form words. And my hands were positioned to put thoughts to keys and create something I hoped would be magical.

Yet, in that moment and in that space, the only thing that flooded my mind was, “What if my blog sucks?” I mean really, this organization and in particular this retreat is chock-full-of brilliant, talented and skilled writer-educators. Some have published. Some have PhDs. Some have been teaching as long as I’ve been breathing. “Boy, I sure will pale in comparison,” I heard mumbling just beneath the surface of my ego. And all of a sudden, I remembered what it felt like to be a student in a class full of students I admired but wondered if I was as smart, as good, as funny or as interesting. I wondered how this permanent piece of myself would represent who I am in a professional and public space. I questioned if I would be viewed as capable or as worthy as my colleagues and AM counterparts.

In that moment I became fully aware of what it is like to be one of my students. I felt what it was like to attempt to complete a self-reflective, honest and vulnerable piece of writing. In that moment I became uniquely empathic. I sincerely thought about what I have asked and still ask of my students. So, asking me to write this blog is like my asking students to do an assignment that requires them to bare their souls before some of the most beautiful, powerful and honored souls on the planet.  I was now being asked to do just that. I was intimidated, nervous and extremely unsure of myself. And what if what I had to say didn’t add any value to this community? What if it sounded like I was trying too hard? Or what if it sounded like I didn’t try hard enough? What if I simply am not good? What if after all of this time I’m exposed as a fraud?

I don’t know if anyone else felt this way, but there was no way I could write about what I truly want to share, if I didn’t start openly and honestly with my truth.

I wish I could say the dread ended there. But it didn’t. The screen became blinding. My thoughts paralyzed my action. My fingers froze. The keys seemed to jumble. I closed the laptop. I turned off the portal. I shut the door to a space where I’ve often felt free and safe to express myself. The bright screen became a gloomy room. The quiet, now deafening fear and the stillness, a tornado of insecurity. I hoped sound sleep and a new day would offer some hope beyond my state of inadequacy.

The next day arrived and it seemed like my condition worsened. As I watched fellow NWP educators creep into secret corners, huddle around empty tables, sink into remote rooms and sit in solitude to write, my anxiety intensified. Here I was again, unconsciously, comparing myself. I observed colleagues exchange drafts, overheard amazing feedback and peered across rooms filled with smiles exuding great confidence; and welling up in me more and more was how I should probably just take the hit to my professional reputation and avoid doing the assignment altogether. I’d already felt like I may not be seen as valuable, appreciated or qualified as some of the others on our joint-site team. I’d already decided I’d done my best but others were far better. I’d already accepted my fate; my leaders were gracious, but I probably won’t be asked back or sought out for future opportunities. And as much as I wanted to quiet this voice, pretend like it didn’t exist, or act like I didn’t really care how others perceived me, that wouldn’t be honest. It wouldn’t be vulnerable. I wouldn’t be doing what I ask of my students everyday, for every assignment–sharing my truth.

We all know writing is one of the scariest things a person can do whether they are an academic or a regular Joe. And yet good writing is often the result of being vulnerable, honest and truthful. It is being challenged and inspired by the authorial voices of those you admire. It is struggling with what to write and how to write it. It is the practice of drafting, redrafting and second-guessing if you should publish it at all. It is a pathway to evoke conversation, connection and community. Writing matters because it can transform the writer and those who read their truth. And so the journey I just described here in attempting to complete this seemingly easy assignment for writer-educators, mirrors the two year journey I took with twelve brave and willing New York City teachers, five smart and dedicated New York City teacher- leaders, four incredible NWP leaders, three remarkable Alabama “dream girls,” two New York City liaison partners turned “amigos” and one extraordinary New York City truth-sayer and mentor.

Being asked to do this assignment, write this blog, bare my heart and soul onto a blank screen, has taken me on a trip down the memory lane of our inspirational and aspirational AM 2.0 work and reminded me –and I hope you—of the importance of always keeping what I’m asking of students and the process they individually navigate at the forefront of my mind as they courageously offer me some small sample of their truth that will forever live in black and white and on the page.

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