After a year and a half of teaching, I've decided I'm as qualified as anyone to have a philosophy of teaching. Presumptuous? Maybe. But I have already learned a lot.
The students that I work with come from an economically disadvantaged area where gangs and drugs are prevalent. They constantly tell me how they are not allowed to play outside at their apartment complex thus rendering recess time their only fresh air of the day. When a student lives in this kind of environment, their daily goal is survival.
Based on this background knowledge, I have realized that there are only two ways to make learning relevant (and they are intimately connected). 1. Students need to learn how things are connected to real life. 2. Students need to be able to explain not just what they are doing, but WHY. (i.e. Why in the world does this grammar lesson really matter?)
Students need to have things connected to life. They need pictures and field trips and hands on activities that give them some real world context for learning. If a student does not have a purpose for learning the information and if they do not make a personal connection to the material, they will spend far more time and energy in your class focused on what is most important to them...surviving.
Students need to be able to explain WHY. This is so so important to the actual retention of information. I am constantly being told by other teachers and administrators that I have high expectations for my kids. That is because I am not just content to simply call on a student and hear an answer. There are always follow up questions in order to ensure comprehension. If a student only know the steps to solving a math problem, they'll forget them during the next chapter. If students have strategies for solving any problem, real world context (where will I use this math?), and an understanding of why they did what they did, they will be able to retain the information AND use that information when solving unrelated problems.
Simply put, a student won't learn unless they care. There is simply too much else going on in their daily lives to pay attention to you unless you have enough passion and commitment to giving them a reason to.