Yesterday afternoon, my younger son (aged 12) paused as he walked past me, and asked: "Dad, why do teachers teach?".
I was a bit puzzled by his question, and decided to answer it at face value. "Well son, because it is their job I guess... to teach people".
"No", he quickly answered, furrowing his brow in a mixture of exasperation at my shallowness and his attempts to articulate the question more meaningfully.
"I mean" he continued, "They seem to do the SAME thing every day. They just sit in the classroom and teach". He continued "In 10 years or 20 years time, they will see kids they taught who are successful and millionaires, and they will still be doing the same thing - TEACHING !?".
Ah, I was beginning to see what he was getting at. I paused and thought about my answer.
"Well", I replied, "For a lot of people, just money and success aren't important to them. What IS important to them is to make a difference and change lives. That's why some people teach, and some work in health care or emergency services. Not everyone has the goal to become a millionaire".
I watched his forehead crinkle even further as he digested this information.
"But WHY would they do it? Don't they get sick of not getting ahead themselves? Year after year, with new kids just coming in and then going on to be successful while they stay the same??" he asked.
"Exactly!" I answered him. "You just answered your own question. Every year they will get a new batch of fresh minds that they can work their magic on. They have a whole year to make better people out of them, then pass them on to the next teacher - whether it is a school teachers, university professor or boss. What keeps them excited is the new possibilities each year. That is exciting, isn't it? Besides, they can always get promoted within the school. Teachers can become Principals, Principals can become district administrators and so on...".
His expression changed from puzzlement to (what I hope is) understanding. He went quiet and didn't speak to me again, but wandered off somewhere else to ponder this mystery.
I hope that I have sowed the seeds of some deeper thinking for him, and to remind him that success is not just measured in terms of dollars in the bank. It is my fault really - when he was little, most of our made up bedtime stories used to centre around how he would be a high flying millionaire as a grown up due to his vast worldwide doughnut empire. It even included stories of him in his flying Airbus A380 doughnut factory, and having a Bugatti Veyron in every city to drive around when he got there.
I see now that I am going to have to delicately unpick the definitions of success that have been sowed in his mind, and remind him that alongside monetary success, there must also be compassion, humanity, and a desire to change the world into a better place...