The dinner conversation somehow had turned to motivation. "Did you know," my friend, a researcher and professor of educational psychology, asked my husband and me, "that when they instituted pizza as a reward for summer reading, the children who were the natural readers stopped reading? They discovered that external motivation actually stifles those people who are intrinsically motivated to do something."

I'm reminded of that conversation as I reflect on yesterday's Old Testament reading, the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. God is setting out the laws that will begin to form this new nation, not in the still, small, voice which will come to Elijah many years from now, but with a pyrotechnic show that lights up the mountaintop, and has the people begging Moses not to make them talk to God. He's too scary, they say, He frightens us. Moses replies by telling them that they should not be afraid. "God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin." (Exodus 20:20)

The image immediately came to mind of a teacher on the first day of class. Old school tactics encouraged teachers to lay down the law, to "put the fear of God" into the students on the first day, and then gradually lighten up. In other words, to make sure that an external motivation for learning was strongly put in place. The teacher was there to make sure that learning occurred, and would not flinch from using her authority should the need arise.

But that isn't the only strategy for first day interactions in the classroom. My middle daughter, who is currently getting certified for substitute teaching, after attending training told they were encouraged to establish classroom rapport by individually connecting with each student as they entered the classroom the first day. The students will know that the teacher cares about them, and will respond from within that framework.

My guess is that it depends upon the group of students. If you have students who are eager to learn, loved and respected at home they will respond to this individualized approach. But if you have a group of students who by and large have little discipline or love in their backgrounds and have been turned off from learning, a stronger hand might be more helpful to begin with. Either way, the teacher will be successful if the motivating desire is for the students to fall in love with learning and to use the knowledge they gain to fulfill the their potential for a full and meaningful life. (more after the break)