North Liberty teacher Kedibona Ochs inspires students

Kedibona Ochs has the most infectious spirit, people would never know he spent most of his high school years homeless and alone.


Photo of Kedibona Ochs. Contributed.

Caitlin Crome, News Reporter

By the time Kedibona Ochs graduated high school, he’d lived in 10 different houses by his estimate. Now an English teacher at Liberty High School, he is always carrying his boombox, playing music in the mornings, dancing with his students, and working to inspire them to succeed.

Ochs had an adverse childhood, he said, that included working an overnight job to support himself and living without a permanent home.

“I bounced around from this house to that house, staying with friends, staying with my guidance counselor, staying just wherever I could get a home,” he said. “There was a time where I was living in a car. A short period of time nonetheless, but I was living in a van.”

He was born in Namibia, a country in Africa, he said, but after moving back and forth twice, he and his brother ended up coming to the U.S. for good in 2006 to stay with their father in Dubuque.

Ochs’ father eventually left Iowa, however, and returned to Namibia.

His brother, who’d come to the U.S. as a minor, decided to leave the country once he turned 18, he said, leaving Ochs as a young high school student living in the U.S. alone.

“I always do air quotes around ‘by myself’,” he said. “Because I had the best community and support system I could have ever asked for in Dubuque.”

But as far as biological family goes, Ochs said he was alone.

Ochs said he was still trying to make money to support himself as a high school student.

He said he took over his dad’s job of delivering newspapers across eastern Iowa all through the night from midnight to 7 a.m. and did so until he moved in with his first friend his sophomore year.

Being a teacher was never on his radar growing up, and he said it took a while to get there. Once he got to the University of Iowa, Ochs sat down with Clinical Professor in the College of Education Amy Shoultzs, who asked him what he enjoyed doing and what makes him happy.

“I talked to him about why teaching is so important,” Shoultzs said, “… and why just in meeting him, I thought he could be a great person to be in the classroom.”

She said, even with all that Ochs had been through, he had this love of life, and embraced the present.

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“He just exudes positivity and energy that just lights up a room,” she said. “His spirit was contagious.”

Looking back, Ochs said his language arts teachers in high school influenced him the most in making his decision to become a teacher.

“I wanted to offer what they gave to me to other students, which was a kid who had an adverse childhood experience or experiences, helping me get through high school and bestowing that belief in self and all of those wonderful things teachers do on a daily basis that may not always be on the books,” he said. “I wanted to do that for other students, and here I am in year two.”

Current Liberty High School English Teacher Peggy Dolson, who teaches a few doors down from Ochs, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that she first met Ochs as his sophomore English teacher at Dubuque Hempstead High School.

“Kedi is an eager learner,” Dolson wrote. “I remember that, even if I was in a bad mood, he lifted me up. Kedi had a lot going on in his own life, yet he remained upbeat.”

Now Ochs’ coworker, Dolson wrote that she believes teaching is the perfect occupation for him because he can share his history to inspire students.

“Kedi brings a light to our department. He engages students with music, humor, enthusiasm, and kindness,” Dolson wrote. “I love seeing Kedi interact with every student walking through our hallways. (And I mean every student.) Kedi shows our students that your story is important and that every problem can be solved.”

Ochs said he now walks around with a sense of pride, knowing that he is here, and he made it through his adversities. Through all of the hardships, he said he wanted to come full circle and be a positive influence for his students like his teachers were for him.

“A kid was telling me that he does not believe in miracles and I just made a little joke,” he said. “I was like, ‘Close your eyes, look at me. You are looking at a miracle right now.’”

Ochs makes it a part of his teaching philosophy for his students to know his story.

“Even in that joke, there is that sense of pride that I am not supposed to be where I am at, and I still do not know where I am going,” he said. “But the fact that I am here right now in so many ways for me is a miracle … I really live everyday like it is my last.”