A most inspiring local educator Brad Cohen shares his path to success and accomplishment against a rocky starting backdrop as a young boy. “Growing up with a disability was never easy, but I also never made excuses just because I had Tourette Syndrome. I made sure to not allow my Tourette’s to win. I never wanted it to get the best of me. So I set out to prove to others that I could be successful despite having Tourette’s. When somebody says I can’t do something because of [it], I set out to prove them wrong. That is what inspired me to become a teacher and now an assistant principal at an elementary school.”
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders states that Tourette Syndrome is characterized by repetitive, uncontrollable movements, vocalization and tics. It is first noted in childhood most commonly between the ages of 3 and 9 and hopefully improves with adulthood. Males are three to four times more likely to suffer from this.
When he was growing up, not as many people understood Tourette’s. Cohen credits his mother and school principal for the detective work in figuring out why he was accused of behavior problems and class disruptions. Teachers were often as cruel as students. For the first time, Cohen got positive reinforcement when he was asked to address fellow students to explain Tourette’s, receiving resounding applause.
Cohen’s journey progressed after attending Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., and moving to Atlanta in 1996. He was rejected 24 times before securing a teaching position in Georgia, but after his first job he won Teacher of the Year. His book “Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had” was published in 2005. A year later he was featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” where he explained his fifth grade teacher cruelly made him apologize to the class stating that it [his noises and tics] would never happen again. He revealed the pain he felt when another adult approached his mother suggesting that he might be possessed by the devil.
More accolades and visibility came when “Front of the Class” Hallmark Hall of Fame movie premiered in 2008 on CBS and was remade 10 years later in 2018 as a Bollywood movie in India entitled “Hichki,” which means hiccup.
The AJT asked Cohen to discuss his view on the current state of education, what others can learn from his experience and how his Jewish background shaped his life.
COVID and Education
“COVID has played a major role in the way we operate in schools. First, is the safety of everyone. We must think about how we teach differently than we have in the past. Wearing masks has proved to be effective and our students didn’t have a problem with this. School feels more isolated as there are less schoolwide events and students don’t collaborate like they once did. My own kids struggled virtually at first, but then got used to it. But it took time. Now they are used to the routines when they need to learn at home.”
• Follow your dreams despite life’s challenges.
• Keep a positive attitude even during the toughest of times. There were lots of times that I could have had a negative attitude in life, but I chose to stay positive.
• Follow your passions in life. I loved kids and I wanted to inspire them, so I became a teacher.
• Don’t make excuses in life. Everybody has a weakness or a challenge and we must learn to persevere!
• Last, we must learn to celebrate our strengths and not always look at what is wrong in life, rather we should look at the opportunities that are out there.
“I was bar mitzvahed in 1986. Growing up, I was involved at the Jewish Community Center, attended a Jewish overnight camp, was active in BBYO and voted to its international board. I later joined AEPi fraternity and was active in Hillel in college, and continue to be involved in my temple. So being Jewish has always been important to me and has been a priority. And now it is important for me and my wife to raise our two boys Jewish.”
Not incidentally, Brad met wife Nancy on Jdate and have two sons, ages 9 and 10.
- Marcia Caller Jaffe
- Tourette syndrome
- The National Institute of Neurological Disorders
- Bradley University
- “Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had”
- Oprah Winfrey
- Hallmark Hall of Fame
- Jewish Community Center
- Brad Cohen