What’s it’s like to be bullied? Bullying is a phenomenon most common in schools and colleges. Children who bully others target those who seem to be less powerful or not as strong. But the matter gets worst for the kids dealing with problems such as Tourette syndrome. Tourette Syndrome and bullying is a subject that none other than educator Brad Cohen can understand. As he himself faced the disease firsthand, Cohen’s struggle to become a teacher despite having the syndrome is a journey worth reading.

Cohen’s story is so inspiring that it was adapted as a movie based on his life. The movie, Front of the Class, touched everyone who saw it and is a masterpiece of its own. The popularity of the film was so much so that it was adapted into a hit 2018 Bollywood film Hichki.

Brad Cohen- a solution and not a problem

Brad Cohen was born on December 18, 1973, in a Jewish family. His parents divorced earlier in his life and he grew up under the guardianship of her mother. Since childhood, Cohen was constantly accused as a troublemaker by his teachers as he would occasionally bark and twitch abruptly anytime. The problem grew so much that at a point he was even expelled from school. Someone asked his mother once if she had considered an exorcist. Though his mother was cooperative, his father never understood his son’s problem and would easily get frustrated and often punish him for making noises.

Brad Cohen

The first appointment with a doctor concluded that his tics were an emotional reaction to his parent’s divorce. But his mother was adamant that his son has some kind of problem and thus by her own research when Cohen was 12, she identified that his son has Tourette Syndrome. To help Cohen understand more about this syndrome, his mother took him to a Tourette syndrome support group meeting. The meeting, however, was not fruitful as Cohen felt that everyone has already surrendered to the problem.

At the beginning of eighth grade, Cohen was transferred to a new school where he too encountered constant bullying by his peers. Yet, unlike the teachers of his previous school, the principal here understood his problem and decided to do something about it. He let Cohen appear on Sally Jessy Raphaël’s show and asked him to speak about his Tourette Syndrome. He asked him direct questions like ‘why do you make noises?’ or ‘is there a cure?’ Answering these questions, Cohen’s trouble was accepted by his peers and also increased his confidence and speaking skills.

It was this day when Cohen decided to become a teacher so that no other student like him would suffer the same plight. He graduated from Parkway Central High School in 1992 and was the president of the St. Louis Council of Aleph Zadik Aleph. Cohen majored in elementary education from Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois.

Despite his fight for life, Cohen always faced challenges greater than a regular college student. During his first week at school, he was kicked out of a local fast food restaurant when an employee thought he was drunk and threatened to call the police. His friends tried to tell him about his syndrome but nobody listened. As a result his friends together started a campaign and boycott the restaurant until the owner himself called Cohen and apologized.

During the 1990s, Cohen moved to Georgia for better job opportunities. He applied to numerous elementary schools for a teaching position and interviewed every one of them but was always rejected for his tics. He was rejected 24 times before Mountain View Elementary School hired him to teach the second and third grades. His first job as an elementary teacher proved to be a turning point in his life. His teaching style became extremely favored and he became popular among the students. Though one parent did transfer their kid to another class due to Cohen’s syndrome, they asked to have the child moved back only weeks later.

In 1997, Cohen was awarded Sallie Mae First Class Teacher of the Year. And just like that, he shifted from one school to another and by 2013, he became the assistant vice principal at Addison Elementary School in Cobb County, Georgia. He married Nancy Lazarus in 2007 and they together have two children.

Brad Cohen

In 2005, Cohen published his book titled ‘Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had’. The book won the Independent Publisher Book Award for Best Education Book for that year. A movie was later adapted and was released in 2008. Since then, there is no stopping for Cohen, though he still occasionally had loud vocal tics and barking but that never let his guards down. In fact, he turned his weakness into his strength and today he serves as the vice president for the Tourette Syndrome Association of Georgia.

How can we end bullying culture?

Validating and listening to what kids go through is the basic step we can take to reduce bullying culture. Research says that when we intervene within 10 seconds of someone being bullied, we can actually stop the situation. We need to listen, understand, and then validate the situations.

As a parent put yourselves inside the shoes of your kid and then understand if you are a classmate or a colleague intervene before it’s too late. As an audience, we have the power to change the way our speakers address us. However we need to stop bullying, we need to enlighten our minds for bringing solidarity and acceptance so that people can live together without being subject to shameful comments and reactions every day. 

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