The teacher he never had:
When Brad Cohen ’96 began his first week as a freshman on Bradley’s campus, he had no idea he would soon be thrown out of a Campustown restaurant and, consequently, become the focus of three Scout newspaper articles. All he wanted to do was buy a sandwich. “The manager told me to stop making noises or he’d call the police,” Cohen recalls.
Upset and not wanting to make a scene, Cohen quietly left the restaurant and returned to his dorm room. What the restaurant manager didn’t understand was that Cohen has Tourette Syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary motor and vocal tics. Within a few hours, several students had heard about the incident and stopped by to see Cohen, or sent e-mail messages to him suggesting they should all boycott the restaurant. Before the day was over, Cohen received a phone call and an apology from the restaurant owner and was given free sandwiches. “The whole thing turned out to be a godsend,” says Cohen. “Many Bradley students were educated about Tourette Syndrome. They learned
After graduating cum laude from Bradley with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, Cohen began his teaching career in Georgia. Convincing a principal to hire a teacher with Tourette Syndrome was not an easy task, but after 25 interviews, Cohen was given a chance to shine. One year later, Cohen was named Sallie Mae First Year Teacher of the Year for the State of Georgia for his outstanding teaching and positive role model abilities.
Brad Cohen ‘96 was featured in the September 12, 2005 issue of People magazine.
Today, Cohen is a second grade teacher at Tritt Elementary School, near Atlanta, Georgia. For the past nine years, he has taught math, reading, and computer technology, as well as acceptance for all people, no matter what their disability may be. Cohen also gives motivational talks and educates the public about Tourette Syndrome, and his first book, Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had, was published recently.
The book title comes from a defining moment when Cohen was in the fifth grade. “I was just starting to figure out that something was not quite right, and we were trying to educate my teachers about Tourette Syndrome. My teacher made me come to the front of the class and apologize for the noises I was making and promise that it wouldn’t happen again. Of course, it happened again,” he remembers. “I always felt like the kid in the corner. I really needed support and acceptance from my teacher and didn’t get it. From then on, I knew that I wanted to be that teacher — one who would offer support and acceptance and really be there for each kid.”
Cohen recalls two Bradley professors who helped shape the teacher he is today. “Dr. Paul Kasambira taught a multicultural education class. He would let me visit each of his classes and give a brief talk about life with Tourette Syndrome,” he says. “I am sure this helped as those students became teachers and were faced with teaching students with Tourette Syndrome or any type of disability.” He also remembers how seeing that Dr. Kasambira was writing a book planted the seeds for him becoming an author. “I started jotting down ideas and things that happened to me, both positive and negative. Many of those stories are now in my book.”
“COM 101 during my freshman year was also a great class for me,” Cohen says. “Ms. Linda Strasma helped me become comfortable speaking in front of others and perfect my speaking skills—skills which have helped me in becoming a professional speaker.”
“Many times kids and adults look to athletes, movie stars, and government officials for role models. I’m ready for people to focus on the common person living in our society to be their role model,” Cohen explains. “It is my goal that people will see me and realize that with a positive attitude, anyone can be successful.”
For more information, visit Cohen’s Web site, classperformance.com.
Tourette Syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder that usually becomes evident in early childhood or adolescence and is defined by multiple motor and vocal tics lasting for more than one year. The first symptoms usually are involuntary movements of the face, arms, limbs or trunk, which are frequent, repetitive, and rapid. No cause for TS has been established, but there is evidence that it stems from the abnormal activity of at least one brain chemical called dopamine. There may be abnormal activity of the receptor for this chemical
There is no known cure for TS yet, but the majority of people with TS are not significantly disabled by their behavioral symptoms and do not require medication. There are medications available to help control the symptoms when they interfere with functioning.
The National Institutes of Health estimates that 100,000 Americans have TS. More information about TS can be found at the Tourette Syndrome Association, Inc. Web site at tsa-usa.org or by calling 1-888-4-Touret.
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