Front of the Class
Brad Cohen (M. Ed ’98, Ed. S ’00) struggled through elementary and secondary school, shunned and mocked by his peers because of his constant tics and noises.
But far worse, Cohen says, were the teachers who made him stand in the corner, go to the principal’s office and even apologize to his classmates for his behavior.
Teachers thought Cohen was being intentionally disruptive, but really he was suffering from Tourette syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes a variety of tics and sounds that can’t be controlled.
“I just decided at an early age I wanted to be that teacher that I never had — the one that focuses on the kids’ strengths and not their weaknesses,” Cohen says.
The heart-warming story of Cohen’s journey to become an award-winning teacher is scheduled to be a “Hallmark Hall of Fame” TV presentation on Sunday (Dec. 7) at 9 p.m. on CBS. The film is based on the book, Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had, which Cohen co-wrote with Lisa Wysocky.
The Georgia State alumnus — diagnosed with Tourette syndrome at age 12 — struggled to achieve his dream. After graduating from Bradley University with honors, he moved to Atlanta in 1996 in search of his first teaching job. He went on dozens of interviews, but each time was told by the principal he wasn’t cut out to be a teacher.
“I went to bed crying because I couldn’t convince administrators to hire me,” Cohen says. “But the next day, I would wake up and say, ‘I can do it. Just because I have a disability, I shouldn’t give up.’”
Cohen’s perseverance paid off. On his 25th interview, he was offered a position teaching second-grade at Mountain View Elementary School in Marietta, Ga. Once in the classroom, Cohen was able to shine and quickly became a role model for his students.
“The first thing I did was explain my disability to my class and say, ‘We all have challenges in life. I didn’t make excuses for myself and you shouldn’t do that either,’” he recalls.
A year later, he was awarded Georgia’s First Class Teacher of the Year award. Cohen then sought more education, earning his master’s degree in education in 1998 and his educational specialist degree in 2000 from Georgia State’s College of Education. He is now working as an area lead teacher at Tritt Elementary School in Marietta and hopes to one day become a principal.
Cohen also decided to share his story with a wider audience. He became a motivational speaker and wrote the book about his life, which was released in 2005. He has since been featured in People magazine and has been asked to appear on “Inside Edition” and the “Oprah Winfrey Show.”
The “Hallmark Hall of Fame” movie isn’t just about Tourette syndrome, Cohen says. It’s about a young boy who didn’t let his disability stand in the way of his dreams.
“My story is about having a positive attitude,” Cohen says. “Everybody has a bad day. But what can truly help us get through the hard times is to find that positive attitude and not give up.”
For more information about Cohen, visit http://www.classperformance.com/.