One of the chief joys of being a teacher is when you see a light come on in a student’s head — when they have an a-ha moment. Maybe you just explained something differently and got the student to slightly shift their thinking, but that shift makes all the difference in the world. When your perspective changes the whole world changes.
Librarians don’t always get to see these a-ha moments in the classroom but every once in a while we get lucky. I recently had two of these at the reference desk and they both came via chat. One student was trying to find primary source documents from around the time of the Battle of Vienna and John III Sobieski. The only problem was he wanted translated ones since he didn’t read Polish or German. After we both did a little searching I found some translated documents linked from the Wikipedia entry on the Battle of Vienna. When I mentioned that I found them in the Wikipedia references he or she said “oh I never thought to look in the references!”
The other student was working on a research project having to do with customs or folkways within a specific community. The student’s main problem though, was defining her topic. We chatted for probably 15-20 minutes talking about what she was interested in. Most of the conversation on my end was asking a lot of questions, clarifying and making some suggestions. The student was interested in the community of modern Egypt (and the revolution stuff going on). We eventually got her question focused down to the political and power customs in contemporary Egypt. At the end of our conversation she said “that was exactly what was in my head but I didn’t know how to say it!” I replied that sometimes it’s helpful to simply have someone to bounce ideas off of and ask questions. Sometimes a good reference answer is actually a bunch of questions.
These were definitely moments that make it all worth it. Being able to see people change and learn is one of the great joys of librarianship. Do you have any memorable student a-ha moments? Please share them in the comments.