When someone asks you about your philosophy of teaching, you immediately feel the need to pull out the textbooks from preservice teacher training and look back at all the theories of learning in order to expound on the dynamics of this model or that research theory. If I have learned only one thing in all my years of teaching, it is that a teaching philosophy cannot come only from a book; it must come from the heart. That is not to say that what I believe about teaching is not based in part on what I have learned from outside sources. But a truly successful teacher must take all of that theoretical knowledge and combine it with the part of the soul which makes one a teacher. The first and most important element in being an educator is desire. This is not a profession to take lightly. For all the jokes about summer vacations, and days that end at 3:05, teaching is a highly demanding profession. It requires not only the intellectual ability to do the job, but also an emotional commitment not often found in other professions. The hours are long, the pay is not commensurate with the education required, and the potential for advancement is limited. And yet, it can be one of the most fulfilling professions, if you have the desire.
That said there is a great deal more to being a teacher than just the desire. And, yes, this is where those textbook theories enter the picture. In order to teach, you must understand how students learn. I believe good teaching requires the following elements. First, you must make what you teach relevant to the lives of your students. Teaching ideas and concepts in isolation does not promote learning. It is only when your students can connect new ideas/concepts to knowledge they already possess will that learning be meaningful.
Second, you must let learning be messy. By that I mean that students must be actively involved in what they are doing. True, they do need some guidance and structure, but too often learning experiences are so rigidly controlled that there is no real "learning" occurring. Students are simply filling in the blanks.
Finally, students must pause and reflect on what they are doing, both during and after the learning process. True learning involves cognition (thinking). If students don't think about what they do, have they developed a real understanding of what they have learned? Unfortunately, it is impossible to "see" what a student is thinking, unless they put those thoughts on paper. Often, during this process of reflection, students discover new ideas and a realization of exactly what they have learned, and what they want to learn next.
All of these elements can be found in the constructivist theory of teaching. Although I was educated in a behaviorist environment, I believe that what I learned I learned in spite of the educational system, not because of it. For true learning to occur, the students must construct their own knowledge. As teachers, we still play an important role in the educational process in that we are there to guide, to pose questions, and to facilitate the exploration of knowledge for our students.