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I don’t remember a fear of the water. There may have been a time that I wouldn’t blow bubbles, wouldn’t dunk my head, wouldn’t open my eyes for fear of that chlorine sting. It seems perfectly reasonable, but I don't remember that. During a stint in the 90's, I had to imagine, every day, what that fear feels like.

In high school I worked at the local pool. It was a pretty good summer job. I was, and still am, about as awful a swimmer as a person can be, while still being competent enough to lifeguard. As a swimmer I was a passable thrasher, but I think I was a decent teacher.

I liked teaching swimming lessons, even though guarding was much less stressful. Watching over a vat of human soup was pretty easy money, but watching a kid learn something, that was way more fun.

There were two different types of swimming instructor. There were the ones who tried to burn through the half hour sessions by doing the same few drills, songs, and games. If they were charged with a group of older kids, kids who wouldn’t instantly sink to the bottom of the pool if left unattended, some instructors would stand on deck hollering in orders army sergeant style. Other instructors always got into the water. They always looked into the kids eyes when they talked to them and listened for a response. They were sometimes loud, but they never shouted. They didn’t direct the kids to play games and do drills, they played games with them. Not because it was their job to play, because it was fun. They smiled. I always tried to be that kind of teacher.

Teaching is all about empathy. You can be amazing at something. Mathematics, juggling, programming, knitting, swimming, whatever, but if you can't imagine being new to it, afraid of it, you can't teach it. Period. No exceptions. A good student might be able to learn from watching you, but that doesn't make you a good teacher. I don't remember being afraid of swimming, but I desperately tried to understand that feeling every time I asked a twitchy 4 year old to jump off the side, promising I wouldn't let her sink.

Recently Andrew Price of Blender Guru has proposed some modifications to the Blender UI. While it seems that most people agree, the very first responses were acidic, even personal attacks. I'm sure it's demoralizing to the people at Blender Guru, but it seems like they expected that sort of reaction. Andrew seemed to know what he was getting into. Andrew seems like a good teacher.

If you've read any of my previous commentary on Blender, you will know that I really like it, but I find the interface actively hostile toward new users. I'll cut through it, because I have a decade or so of 3D modelling and animation behind me, but I really empathize with the fear and confusion a new user must feel.

There are users of Blender demanding loudly that the child be allowed to sink. I shouldn't have to point out how this doesn't benefit the student or the teacher. Of course this sort of reflexive response is rooted in another kind of fear. Fear born out of inertia. Complacency. Fear of losing status. Fear of letting “the wrong type” of people into a clique. I suppose the only thing for it, is to teach. Try to empathize with their position and say “it’s okay, we’re not going to let you sink.”

So far as I can tell Andrew has done exactly that. Here’s hoping the stewards of Blender are good enough students to listen.
This post is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 by the author.
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