Now, I do have a few students who lack motivation. I'll admit that right off. I just don't see these students very often, since they aren't motivated enough to come to class (or even motivated enough to drop the class so that they don't fail it). All the rest of my students are inspired by some form of motivation:
This particular motivator is people-centered. Either students go to class because they know their mom will wonder why they are at home when class is happening (and they don't want to upset her) or they want to get good grades so the parents (or girlfriend, etc.) are proud (instead of disappointed), or they may even fear what their teacher thinks of them. I was a member of the latter, although I do understand that what a stranger thinks shouldn't really matter. The point is that these people are working hard, not because they really think it's important, but because other people do, and they want to be judged favorably by those people.
I can't say this is a motivating factor for me--the Navajo blood in me is too strong--but it certainly is for my students. Some of them want to know what everybody else's grade is--tests, quizzes, papers, everything. Envy is the name of the game here. These students might not care that much about what grade they receive, as long as it's the best grade I dish out. However, since I dislike this particular tendency, I never tell them anything. (Other students' grades are none of their damn business.)
For these students, the grade is a sign of whether or not they will make it to heaven. An "A" is average for these people (although a "C" is supposed to be the average), and anything less means they failed. Call them overachievers--I know I do--or perfectionists--I call them that, too--but they are also very hard workers, for they aren't competing against other students in class but against the perfection they imagine themselves capable of. The only problem with this motivation is that it causes students unnecessary stress, and it's stress on the GRADE, not on the LEARNING. Which leads to the (next to) last motivation.
4. Desire to Learn
This is my favorite, but it's not that common. Most students are in my classes because they have to be. They need so many English credits to get an associates or earn their certificate in welding, so they enroll because they have to. But the rare student comes in, takes a course, and then returns for another one which he doesn't need, just because the course will teach him something. I knew a class once--taught by an adjunct instructor--that was told three weeks before the end of the class that, to give them a break, the teacher was canceling the last few weeks and dropping the final research project. They walked, en masse, straight out of her classroom and to the Dean's office to report her. They were furious that she had robbed them of three weeks of learning. Such an event is rare, yet I do see small signs of this nearly every day, when students express frustration that they get a good grade in some class yet feel like the course itself didn't cover anything important. One student recently commented on a religion course, saying, "You know, I took the class because I wanted to learn about different religions--because it interested me--and I haven't learned anything. It's a complete waste of time."
Now I'm looking over at my little NaNoWriMo calendar, and I am glad I posted in my sidebar. I was unable to write on the novel until late last night, but seeing a red mark on day three was highly motivating. Is it because that calendar is public, and all of you might see it? Nope. Is it because my mom might check out the page? Nope. Am I competing with another NoWri? Nope. Is there a grade involved? Nope.
My drive comes from another source, one I haven't discussed, but one that drives nearly all of us, except for those rare students who never show up for class. It isn't what others think of us, but what we think of ourselves that matters most. I don't want to see my calendar filled with red marks. I care about what I think. That is my ultimate motivation.