Thursday, May 2, 2019

By Brooke Larsen

Commencement speaker shares his long journey to becoming a teacher

Kedibona “Kedi” Ochs hopes to create a classroom for students that fosters inclusivity and compassion.

Ochs says he has been fortunate to find both in his own classrooms during his long journey, which took him back and forth between continents when he was younger.

“We moved to the U.S. because my dad wanted to pursue a better education. That was the first time in 1997. When my parents got divorced in 2002, I went back to Namibia with my two brothers and my mom. Finally, in 2006, my middle brother Ricardo and I moved back to the U.S because of problems happening at home. 13 years later and I’m still here,” says Ochs, who is graduating this May, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English and completing the English Education Teacher Education Program.

Ochs, who was recently awarded the spring 2019 Mary Maxine Redmond Scholarship, was also selected as the Spring 2019 College of Education commencement speaker. He will speak at the UI College of Education Commencement and Teacher Education Program Recognition Ceremony Thursday, May 9, at 4 p.m. at Hancher Auditorium. 

“I felt honored and privileged to be selected to represent the UI College of Education class of 2019. However, with great responsibility comes great stress, and I was hesitant to accept the offer,” says Ochs. “One part of me felt that I wanted an easy phase out of my graduation, but then I remembered that my life hasn’t been easy, so it only makes sense for the end of my college career to end in this way.”

Most recently a resident of Dubuque, Iowa, Ochs is originally from Walvis Bay, Namibia. He traveled back and forth between continents when he was younger, but he has now been in Iowa for 13 consecutive years.

Ochs has been on his own since 2009, which was the beginning of his sophomore year at Hempstead High School in Dubuque. Although he says times were tough, and he struggled to find value in his life, Ochs persevered and finished high school with the support of multiple friends and their families.

His teachers were especially influential in providing support and stability in his life at a time when he needed it most.

“The Hempstead community—teachers, administrators, school resource officers and all—offered me a chance to get a high school degree,” says Ochs. “Every staff member at Hempstead put their job on the line for a kid that they didn’t really know, but trusted. The least I can do for them is finish getting my degree in college and show them that their sacrifice wasn’t just for nothing.”

 Ochs started his college journey at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. He didn’t know what he wanted to do and so he explored different fields until he discovered that education was his passion.

“I love leaving a positive impact on people that want to give up on school or think that it’s not meant for them,” says Ochs. “All of my experiences brought me to this point. Experiencing homelessness in high school, being taken in by the Dubuque community, living under so many different roofs and the list goes on,” Ochs says.

He took  time out in 2015 to block out all the background noise and listen to what he wanted to do, and he says that at that time, there was no double in his mind that he wanted to spend the rest of his life in an English classroom.

He did some research and quickly decided he wanted to attend the top–ranked College of Education in Iowa, the University of Iowa College of Education. Ochs says the UI College of Education makes Iowa’s Big Ten campus feel small and personal.

“The faculty and staff within the UI College of Education treat all students with the upmost respect,” Ochs says. “I can talk to them like I would to a close friend.”

Ochs is finishing up his student teaching at Iowa City West High School in a standard English ninth and tenth grade classroom.

Ochs says he has so many stories to share about students who have captured his heart.

“One of my students is super anxious all the time, so I go out of my way to spend time with her during her lunch because she told me she hasn’t had friends since second grade,” Ochs says. “Now, she’s hanging out with students her age in and out of school.”

Ochs says that during the student teaching experience, you enter into a classroom where a relationship has already been built with the teacher and their students.

“As a student teacher, you don’t realize the positive impact you are making in your students’ lives because you are only with them for three months,” Ochs says.

Ochs said he is excited to start work as a language arts teacher in the fall at Liberty High School in North Liberty, Iowa.

“I want my students to enjoy reading and writing and to understand the importance of English in their lives,” Ochs says. “As an English teacher, I will get the opportunity to interact with student journals and writing samples where they are being vulnerable. English offers an outlet for students to share their emotions and think freely.”

Ochs says he wants to be a powerful source of support for his students and to build a connection with each of them.

“Right now, I can tell you that no matter what is going on in my life, when I walk into school, I will leave all my troubles at the door and be there for the kids,” Ochs say. “I want my students to know they can talk to me about anything. I’ll have an open-door policy.”