The Teachers' Scrounge

News and comments from the world of public education. A middle school math teacher shared what he learned today.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Tourette's in the (FRONT OF) the Classroom

Book Review: Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had. Brad Cohen had a tough time getting through school because of severe Tourette Syndrome. His experience as a student inspired him to "become the teacher [he] never had." His biography tells his story from the seat in time out to being named Georgia's First-Year Teacher of the Year.

When I describe this book to people, they are initially shocked that a teacher could have Tourette's, because of the misunderstanding that Tourette's causes uncontrollable swearing. Such cases are extremely rare. Tourette Syndrome normally manifests as muscle and/or vocal tics. In Cohen's case, he barks, twitches his head, whoops, shrugs his shoulders. This sort of thing.

Front of the Class is an inspiring story. Cohen has to overcome a lot. Restaurant owners want to kick him out, he's uncomfortable going to the theater, he interviewed at TWENTY-FIVE schools before a principal was willing to hire him.

Here's the part of the book I loved -- Cohen articulates his experience as a student in the classroom. In elementary school, his Tourette's had been undiagnosed (so few knew about this ailment at the time). His parent's were frustrated and didn't know how to deal with him. Teachers were irritated and fed up with his disruptions. By middle school, he was diagnosed, and his mom made it her mission to educate the staff and faculty at his school. Cohen would deliver a standard speech the first day of class describing his condition. And then, there was the middle school math teacher. Cohen says: This teacher KNEW I had Tourette's. knew what it made me do, but he decided I was making myself hiccup on purpose. So when Cohen let out a noise, he was sent to timout across the hall. Every day it happened.

How often do we do the same thing to our students? Instead of stopping to ask why they are doing this or that, instead of trying to modify instruction because of their limitations, we barrel through and demand they conform -- even if it's beyond their abilities.

I'm fortunate to be at a campus of professionals that do see the individual seated in the classroom, and not just the distractions that child is creating. But sometimes we need a reminder.

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