Jaclyn Vander Waal—Staff Writer
A red pen, an old teacher edition textbook, and an empty room was all it took for Ed Starkenburg to discover his passion for teaching.
In third grade, he was thrilled when the basement office in his house was emptied. There, he set up a classroom with his pen and textbook. And he played school.
Many years later, Starkenburg’s excitement for education was rekindled when he began a field experience as a student in Dordt College’s elementary education program, where he spent time practicing math facts with third- and fourth-grade students.
“I remember having one little boy who was never very motivated, wasn’t very interested, and then, all of a sudden one day, he got very interested,” Starkenburg said. “And I mean so interested that he would sit up and look at me very intently. And, suddenly, he knew all of his facts.”
Starkenburg remembers being surprised by the quick turnaround of this student, and he began investigating.
“He was looking at the reflection in my glasses,” Starkenburg said. “He could see the answers on there. And that’s why he was so intent, and that’s why he knew the answers.”
Since then, Starkenburg has served as an educator for 41 years. He taught third- and fourth-grade students for twelve years before training future educators at Northwestern College and Dordt University for nearly three decades. Now, after teaching around 1,400 education students, he plans to retire to travel with his wife and serve people in interesting new ways.
To his students, he is a joyful, engaging, empathetic man who wears a continuous smile and is excited and passionate about learning. They never saw him angry or frustrated, only happy and excited to share his knowledge. They felt heard, valued and understood.
“He has a heart to serve his students in any way he can,” said Emily Kooiman, a senior elementary education major. “From answering questions in the classroom to opening his office doors to discuss possibilities with students, he has always demonstrated a heart of service.”
Annetta de Jong, a junior secondary English education major, said he inspires her to be patient and caring for students while still setting high standards for them.
Though he enjoyed teaching elementary students because of the hands-on impact he had on them, Starkenburg is happy to leave a legacy through future teachers like Kooiman and de Jong. Now, he guides the people who will impact those students, which “grows exponentially.”
The most rewarding aspect of teaching educators for Starkenburg has been enabling and equipping them as they flip the switch in transition from student to teacher and learn to plan for and deliver lessons.
“The challenge is to motivate students to be willing to do the hard work of teaching well,” he said. “Many people can do an OK job at teaching, but it takes a lot of energy and a lot of resilience to teach well.”
He doesn’t just hold high expectations for his students, however. Starkenburg also strives to keep himself accountable for his teaching approach.
He thinks it is important to find the balance between the art and science of teaching. Teachers must get to know their students because it allows for tailored instruction that meets individual student needs and interests. Yet, he said teachers also must be practical because students need to be able to understand the lesson itself.
“You need the science, but you also have to have that personal artistic way to bring it about,” Starkenburg said. “The nice thing about that is there is no one right way to teach. God uses many different personality types and individual teachers.”
He clearly sees this when he comes home to his wife, who is a Covenant Kids Preschool teacher in Orange City. They enjoy taking time to share their classroom experiences and often are left awed by the work their partner does at the other end of the education spectrum.
In his retirement, Starkenburg hopes to volunteer in different educational settings with his wife and even plans to pick up part-time hours at Dordt. He would also like to find a job in the service industry because he has always wanted to try working at a hotel or as a waiter.
Regardless of his plans for the future, Starkenburg will miss watching students grow and develop because he thinks it is the one superpower God has given him. In fact, on the wall of his office, a sign says, “I teach. What’s your superpower?”