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The trudge from one class to another can be a mundane journey, but students making their way past room 117 might catch a glimpse of Kedi Ochs singing and dancing outside of English teacher Ann Rocarek’s classroom.
Ochs came to West in the fall of 2018 for a few weeks to do his methods practicum and then returned in January 2019 to student teach until early May when he will graduate from the University of Iowa.
“In sort of finding myself at the University, taking classes and stuff like that, people have told me, ‘Education might be something you want to look into,’” Ochs said. “And then once I started, I just fell in love with it.”
Ochs says he feels privileged to have chosen the career path that he did because teachers get to see the transformation students make in their four years at high school. He describes the attitude students enter freshmen year with as a junior high mindset and, as teachers, they get to mold their minds.
What’s most distinctive about him to his students is his attitude and how musical he is.
“He has a weird way of bringing students in the class. They’ll choose a new song every day and stay outside the classroom until people collab with him or until he just gets everybody’s attention and get them to come into class. So you walk in and you start with a smile on your face,” said McKenna Proud ’21, a student of Mr. Ochs.
“He brings a certain energy which makes it more exciting for everybody,” said Rocarek.
Ochs aims to lift students up. He says one of the best compliments he ever received came from a student he doesn’t even have in class. Ochs was getting a drink from the water fountain when a student came out of the bathroom.
“He’s was like, ‘Hey, I don’t know your name, but I just want to say that like every day during passing time, you put a smile on my face,’” Ochs said.
Brightening the days of students and trying to relate to them through his experiences became a priority because previously he was in a dark place.
He came to the USA to live with his brother and they planned to live with their father. However, his dad had to go back to Africa to because Kedi’s grandfather was sick and his dad didn’t return. Kedi was 15 and his brother was 19. As his home life became more complicated and he took on more responsibility, he went into a dark place mentally.
Students would come into Rocarek’s room and talk about things they were going through. Ochs realized they were facing problems similar to ones he faced in high school. He shared his what it was like going through his depression, as well as his immigrant experience, at West High’s Martin Luther King Day celebration this year.
“I was in the darkest of darkest caves and I was deep stuck in there but just giving it time, having faith in yourself, having faith in whatever it is that you believe in a higher power or anything like that, then you can make it through. So then once you see the light, start going towards the light. Start going, going, keep moving, keep pushing, it seems like it’s far away but it’s not far away,” Ochs said. “So if I’m able to talk to high school students directly about something I experienced in high school that is similar to what they’re going through, then at the end of the day, I was just hoping to inspire students.”
His current philosophy is that no matter what, the sun will rise again and as long as it does, he will get up and face the day too.
Ochs describes high school as some of the toughest years of his life, but also the best because of how it shaped him.
“I would not write my story any other way, like being homeless in high school and going through all those things. Because, again, it’s those things make me the person that I am today.”