More years ago than I’d care to admit, I met Dan Maas when a trip on the lecture circuit took me through Western Michigan. Dan had been a pastor who accepted a job in the pharmaceutical industry because they were struggling to support six children (five adopted) on a pastor’s salary. For a time, I circulated a series of devotionals Dan wrote for people in pharmaceuticals, challenging them to live out their faith at work.
We’ve stayed in touch over the years, and recently, Dan shared with me the letter that he and his wife Brenda wrote that serves as the today’s subject…we thought it would be of interest to the church leaders and parents who follow this blog. In Dan’s words…
Brenda and I were talking about how difficult it is for a teacher to stretch beyond their “success” style and the challenge that the special needs student offers. She asked me to help her with encouraging her teachers on why its important to keep the big picture in mind when working with special needs students. The ideas turned into a letter from a parent to his child’s teachers.
I suggested she give a “50,000 foot view” of the situation and ask the teachers to do the same. The ideas from that conversation morphed into “What I wish teachers would think about MY child” and how they could really help.
To My Child’s Teacher…Brenda and Dan Maas
An open letter to my child’s teacher;
I am so proud that you have been chosen by God to guide my child through this next year of school. I’m trusting that you will have the chance to fulfill many valuable goals this year with my son or daughter.
I was thinking this summer about why someone enters the profession of teaching. Were you gifted in a subject and decided to share that giftedness with others? Were you a teacher first, with a love for the children in your care? Did you find a wonderful fulfillment in watching a child grow in understanding and maturity as you gently urged them to mastery of your subject? Your head and your heart were into teaching, and now you find yourself with a new year with new challenges.
You see, my child has a special need. I’m not really sure what that means or how it will effect his performance this year. I don’t know if we have the right “label”, who we should be partnering with professionally, what medications might help, or what the future will hold for this little one. But I can tell you this…I did not expect this road when our family was blessed with this child.
Our child does not fit the “norm”, has had different troubles with peers and teachers in the past, and even now is quite a handful at home. I need help because every child has a place and a purpose in the world. The Bible tells me so, and in my heart I trust that nothing in Creation is wasted. The problem is this: I don’t know the future for my child and neither does he/she. God does, so we will trust in Him.
We have enrolled our child at NorthPointe for a reason: its a Christian school with a godly reputation. You are a part of that reputation, so I have chosen to trust you for just a few things.
1. My child does not know your subject, how to learn your subject, what to like about your subject, or how your subject fits with his future. It may take everything you know, and then some to guide my child into the joy of your subject. Will you try hard to come alongside this child and build courage in him/her? Help them to learn the next step in the subject, and even if times are repetitious or the “light bulb” doesn’t seem to come on?
2. My child is a little bit angry (ok, maybe a lot angry) at the world, us as parents, at teachers, other professionals, and at God. This anger gets in the way of the will to try new things, conquer a new thought, make a friend, or trust our gracious Savior. Will you introduce the idea of hope, love and perseverance into my child? It will help to slow down the emotion and replace it with something much more positive!
3. My child is following a different path from the rest of his peers. It will take a different view of him/her, more help from others more skilled in his/her personal learning style, and much more communication to keep up with the many challenges to be faced this year. Will you reach out to professionals who want to come alongside you so you are better equipped to guide my child into the joys of your subject? Will you call me when you have questions, see changes in behavior or attitude, or just to touch base and encourage me? Will you help my child see that all paths to fulfilling God’s will are individual, and he/she joins in the grand tradition of believers with their unique path? Will you help my child take the next step in his Path?
4. Finally, my child may take you to the very end of your ability. You may find yourself at the point of giving up because it seems like a hopeless cause, you have hit the end of your ability, and my child is resisting any and all attempts to move forward with your subject. Will you pray? Only our Lord may reach my child at that moment, over that wall that seems to exist between you both. Will you talk to the God who created both you and my child about your concerns and needs? Will you ask for the wisdom and knowledge to truly lead my child into the joys of your subject? Will you ask for God’s intervention in my child’s life, and all that could bring?
This is a tall order, I understand. I’ve been trying to learn these same lessons through the years. But I truly believe that our gracious God has put you, your passions, skills and gifts, into my child’s life for a reason. Teaching is leading. You know where you are going with the material and the class. You know the important next steps that need to be learned in your subject. You know why the subject is important. And you know that God has a future for my child. Will you lead my child, even though it is difficult, to the next step in his/her journey of becoming a part of God’s Kingdom on earth?
Thank you for your service to our King! Please call or write me often so we can work through, pray through and learn through the challenges this year. And finally, may God richly bless you as you lead my child on this year’s learning journey! I will be praying for you.
Brenda Maas serves as Director of the Student Union (the special needs ministry) of the Northpointe Christian Schools in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She oversees four fulltime staff along with several part-time tutors. Her greatest thrill is to see a student find and flourish in a God-honoring life that fits their gifts, skills and blessing. She has been teaching for thirty years…seventeen as a home school Mom-the rest in public and private schools.
Dan is a supportive husband of 31 years and works as a sales representative/ trainer for Jazz Pharmaceuticals.
Dan and Brenda have six children, four grandchildren and one more on the way! They adopted five children along the way. Three kids are launched into careers and marriage, the rest are in 10th, 9th and 7th grades.
Key Ministry is coming up on our tenth anniversary, but churches and families everywhere will be getting the presents. Stay tuned for a big announcement on Tuesday, September 4th.
Great challenging letter with heart! Any teacher who can read it and not be drawn into a partnership with such parents is probably not a teacher up to the challenge. God bless parents and teachers both who see the awesome opportunities in being a team to change the world and the Kingdom one life at a time! Thanks, Dan and brenda, and thanks, Steve, for providing the forum for you (Dan and Brenda) to share this wonderful letter!
Dear Dan and Brenda,
I was touched by your letter to your child’s teacher it would have been a wonderful gift to me many years ago when I taught Special Education in Los Angeles, when we we just beginning to
identify children who did not fit the usual style of education. I was attracted in part because I had been one of those ‘slow’ learners also growing up. And I went on to have three children who also have ‘learning challenges’. Yes, we did pay a lot for private school education so they could have some alternative school experiences when they were young, and tutors and more. Yet, all along I believed their uniqueness /giftedness (by God’s design) was not a handicap, but simply a difference that put them at risk in the average school program. I advocated for them at first and gradually they learned to speak to their teachers about what they needed to learn the material.
The were never ‘A’ students although they did well enough through High-school. But the end results,the 100,000 ft view -(still unfolding) would very much shock that first grade teacher that told me my daughter was ‘unteachable’. Currently she is working on a PHD in Microbiology at the University of British Columbia, where her mapping genomes and colour coding skills are put to good use. One son is a plastics-automotive engineer doing test research, and the other a graphic designer- and we are not sure what else yet. I have felt in these last years that we put too much stress on the educational environment to tell us who I children are – School is the laboratory not the end result, to remember that is helpful in experimenting with different ways children will build the essentials of learning to teach themselves. Yes, I do feel God honoured my prayer that they would grow into the best person they could be, using their lives to reflect His wonderful imagination and love to our world.
Now I encourage that kind of growth as an ongoing process in all our lives through my work as a pastor. Yes, even the little girl who could not spell ‘blue’ has learned a few new tricks in my old age.
You are not alone on the journey, God will answer your prayers.