Front of the Class: The Tourette Syndrome

The Movie Inspired by a True Story

Front of the Class is an American drama film based on the book written by Brad Cohen. His book is called “Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had” and is co-authored by Lisa Wysocky.

Brad Cohen’s book which is, of course, based on his life story has been made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie which has starred James Wolk, Treat Williams, and Patricia Heaton, an Emmy Award-winning actress.

The Tourette Syndrome

The movie which is narrated by the actor playing adult Brad Cohen, starts when he is twelve years old living in Missouri with his mother, Ellen, and his younger brother, Jeff. He is grappling with his involuntary tics, such as head jerking and making those yelping sounds. His parents are divorced. His father believes that he is just acting up by making those “tics” and does not show as much support to him as his mother does.

No one in school understands that he can’t help making those sounds and jerking movements so he is made fun of. In one of his classes, the teacher makes him apologize to his classmates for disrupting the class and makes him promise not to do them again. When he does, he is sent to the principal’s office.

His mother, Ellen takes him to a psychiatrist who thinks that the tics are caused by the parents’ divorce. The scene where Brad refuses to get inside the library shows the effect of his tics on him. He wants to avoid places where his “noise” may cause trouble.

Ellen takes it upon herself to do a research on her son’s condition and in a medical book in the library, she comes across Tourette Syndrom which shows the symptoms that Brad has. She takes her findings to the psychiatrist who agrees with the diagnosis and tells her that Tourette Syndrome or TS has no cure. Finally, Brad finds a name for his condition.

Determined to help her son deal with TS, they attend a support group for those with Tourette Syndrome, but instead of finding inspiration and motivation, Ellen finds a defeatist attitude in the group. From looking at the people afflicted with TS, Brad promised to himself that he will not be like them. At that young age, he is determined not to let Tourette’s control his life.

In middle school, Brad is again sent to the principal for being disruptive with his yelping or barking sound. Nobody takes him seriously when he says he cannot help but make those sounds. The school principal asks him to attend a school concert that afternoon. At the end of the concert, the principal asks him up the stage where he is given a chance to answer questions about his Tourette’s Syndrome. To his surprise, everyone in the auditorium applauds him. To Brad, it has been the turning point in his life. He realizes that educating the people around him about his condition has made a difference on how they treat him. He then realizes the importance of education, and he wants to be part of it, he wants to be a teacher.

Young Brad Cohen (portrayed by Dominic Scott Kay) and his Principal
Young Brad Cohen (portrayed by Dominic Scott Kay) and his Principal

Turned Down 24 times

After graduation from a teaching course, he moves to Georgia and lives with a house mate named Ron. He starts looking for a job as an elementary school teacher. He gets interviewed alright, but he has been turned down 24 times that he is almost on the brink of losing hope.

In spite of his sour relationship with his father, Brad takes a part-time job in his father’s construction company to be able to pay his bills while he is looking for a teaching job but even before he finds his own job, Brad leaves because he feels his father does not believe in him, he does not think that Brad can be a teacher mainly because of his TS.

Teacher of the Year

But finally, he gets his chance. One school believes in him enough to hire him to teach Grade 2.

In spite of his TS, his pupils love him, though there is one parent who is not too happy with his disorder and removes his daughter from Brad’s class. Brad has also met Nancy who accepts his TS and they become close enough for Brad to take her to his mother on Thanksgiving.

Brad’s relationship with his father has taken a good turn, especially when his father has shown his support by turning up in his school with cabinets for the school library.

The highlight of the movie is when Brad is chosen to receive the Sallie Mae First Class Teacher of the Year Award which he accepts in the presence of his family, his friends, and his pupils.

The end of the movie tells the audience that Brad has gotten his Master’s degree and has married Nancy.

Jimmy Wolk as Brad Cohen
Jimmy Wolk as Brad Cohen
Accepting his Teacher of the Year Award
Accepting his Teacher of the Year Award

Trivia

In order to portray Brad Cohen’s tics with accuracy, Jimmy Wolk (the adult Brad) and Dominic Scott Kay (the young Brad) have watched videos and have worked with a dialect coach. Both actors refer to their preparation as “Tourette’s boot camp”. The real Brad Cohen describes the portrayal of his tics as very authentic.

What is Tourette Syndrome?

What is Tourette Syndrome?

Turette Syndrome may also be called Tourette’s Syndrome, or simply TS or Tourette’s. It may also be called Gilles de la Tourette Syndrome, or GTS. It is a neurological disorder wherein a person has both vocal and motor tics.

The primary symptoms of Tourette’s are the tics. The physical or motor tics may be eye blinking, shoulder or head jerking, facial grimacing, or foot stamping. The verbal tics may be shouting, yelping, barking, making clicking sounds, throat clearing, grunting, or repeated sniffing or snorting.

TS is named after Dr. Georges Gilles de la Tourette, a French neurologist who has first described the condition he has found in an 86-year-old French noblewoman in the year 1885.

TS is not contagious. No one gets it from someone who has it. Studies suggest that Tourette Syndrome is an inherited disorder, can be passed on from parent to child, or it may be a result of something which happens during development in the womb.

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