Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had, by Brad Cohen

When Brad Cohen was growing up in the 1980s, few people had even heard of Tourette Syndrome.  None of his family and friends, not even Brad himself, understood why he burst out with loud noises at inappropriate times, or jerked his neck suddenly, or felt an overwhelming urge to knock his knees against things.

School was especially hard for Brad.  His teachers had trouble understanding why he could not keep still and quiet.  The other kids mocked and mistreated him.  Even after he was finally diagnosed with the neurological disorder called Tourette Syndrome, it was an uphill battle to get people to accept him as he was.

With the help of a compassionate principal, Brad discovered that the key to helping people accept him was to educate them about Tourette’s.  Throughout the rest of his school days and years at college, he asked each new teacher to allow him a few minutes on the first day of class to introduce himself and explain about Tourette’s.  He always mentioned that he was open to talking about it and answering questions.  Many people did ask questions, and Brad’s natural friendliness and enthusiasm won them over quickly once they understood his situation.

Having seen the positive effects of educating people, Brad decided to become the teacher he had never had—one who meets his students where they are and gives them lots of acceptance and approval, no matter what their difficulties.

It was not easy; one principal after another turned him down, and the familiar heartache of rejection made him want to give up, but he kept going.  Finally, the twenty-fifth principal to interview him decided to look beyond the Tourette’s at the incredibly motivated and well-prepared person Brad was and is.

Mountain View Elementary School in Atlanta, Georgia, was so impressed with their new teacher that they nominated him for a state-wide teachers’ competition, which he went on to win.  The kids loved him.  Once they got the idea that Brad could not stop his “barking” and muscle tics—it was like blinking or sneezing, he explained—they just accepted them as part of their fun-loving, energetic teacher.  Whether he was dancing on his desk when his kids got 100 stars on their chart or making a giant bubble big enough to sit in by using a fan and a huge piece of plastic, he was always coming up with creative ideas to keep their young minds engaged.

This story is an inspiration to all of us who have ever faced a problem, difficulty, or disability that stands in the way of our dreams.  Brad Cohen is living proof that we can find a way if we keep on trying.
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