“The relationship you have with a student has to be based on trust,” says Dan Polonsky, who teaches junior high students at The Cove School.
The students in his classes all have significant learning disabilities. Polonsky describes Cove as a place where “students who have experienced a lot of difficulties can show what they’re capable of achieving, academically and socially.”
Polonsky is an exceptional teacher because he helps students overcome their obstacles and accomplish more than they—or their parents—thought possible.
“Dan has been a wonderful teacher, with his dedication and one-on-one attention,” writes Lake Forest resident Susan Milanak, who nominated Polonsky. She describes the progress her son made over two years in Polonsky’s class: “At the start of 7th grade he could not answer simple questions about a book even if I stopped and asked right after reading the passage. By the end of 8th grade, Jack could write a five-paragraph essay completely independently.”
Polonsky refuses to take full credit for Jack’s progress and talks instead about how a great team—parents, student, teacher and school—can help a student blossom. He emphasizes that it’s not just about being supportive, but also about making the classroom a challenging environment with attainable goals.
“If the students know you want them to do well, then you’ll get the best out of them,” he says. “Mistakes will still get made, but you’ll see progress.”
Polonsky, who is married and has two young children, has worked at Cove for eight years, with a one-year break to work in a public school. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the public school environment; he just prefers Cove and its philosophy. Each class is small with just eight to 10 students, an assistant and a teacher.
At Cove, he says, “You get to see kids feel good about themselves. They know they’re competent.”