Front of the Class (film)

Front of the Class
Directed by Peter Werner
Produced by Andrew Gottlieb
Written by Thomas Rickman
Based on Front of the Class
by Brad Cohen
Lisa Wysocky
Starring Jimmy Wolk
Treat Williams
Patricia Heaton
Cinematography Paul Elliott
Distributed by Hallmark Hall of Fame
Running time
95 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Front of the Class is a 2008 American drama film based on the book by Brad Cohen, Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had, co-authored by Lisa Wysocky.

The book was made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie starring newcomer James Wolk—a 2007 University of Michigan graduate[1]—and featuring Treat Williams and Emmy Award-winning actress Patricia Heaton as Cohen's parents; the movie aired on CBS on December 7, 2008.[2]


Brad Cohen's story starts when he is a young boy and his mother helps doctors to realize that he has Tourette syndrome. With his mother's help and the support of his school principal, Brad eventually becomes an award-winning teacher.

Thanks to his mother never giving up, Brad is a success story and shares his success with everyone around him.


Twelve-year-old Brad lives in Missouri with his divorcée mother, Ellen, and younger brother, Jeff. He constantly gets into trouble with his father Norman and his teachers at school due to his tics. In one class, his teacher calls him to the front to make him apologize to his class for disrupting the class and promise he won't do it again. Determined to find out what is wrong with her son, Ellen seeks medical help. A psychiatrist believes that Brad's tics are the result of his parents' divorce. One lady suggests an exorcism. Ellen takes her search to the library and comes across Tourette syndrome (TS) in a medical book. She shows this to the psychiatrist, who agrees with the diagnosis, and says that there is no cure. Brad and his mother attend a support group for the first and last time. From then on, Brad aspires to never be like the other members of the support group and to become successful.

At the beginning of middle school, Brad is sent to the principal's office for being disruptive. The Principal invites him to the school concert later in the afternoon. At the end of the concert, he calls Brad up to the stage and asks Brad to talk about his TS. As Brad makes his way back to his seat, the school applauds him.

As an adult, Brad lives with his house mate Ron in Georgia, and is looking for work as an elementary school teacher. He is turned down after 24 interviews because of his TS. He finally gets an interview where the staff are accepting and they give him the job.

On his first day, Brad explains his TS to the children. He helps Thomas with reading and makes an impression on Heather, a girl with terminal cancer. One student's father pulls her out of Brad's class as he fears Brad will distract her.

Brad meets Nancy on an online dating site and invites her over for Thanksgiving back at Ellen's house, where he tells Nancy he loves her, and the feeling is reciprocated. He confides in Ellen his concern that Nancy will get fed up of his tics, but she reassures him that he musn't let his TS get in the way.

An observer at the school assesses Brad's teaching, and the headteacher announces that Brad has been chosen to receive the Teacher of the Year award, which he accepts his award in front his family, friends and students. The ending titles tell that Brad got his Master's degree; he dressed up as Homer, (Atlanta Braves) mascot; he married Nancy in 2006; and photographs of the real Brad Cohen teaching his class are shown.


The script was adapted from the book by Tom Rickman[3] and the movie was directed by Peter Werner.[4] Production was in Shreveport, Louisiana.[5]

Following his 2006 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, in 2007 Cohen spoke at a conference after Timothy Shriver of the Special Olympics. According to Shriver, "The audience 'was laughing, then crying, then laughing, then crying, then cheering, and at the end, they gave him a huge standing ovation.'"[1] Shriver suggested the movie to Cohen, and became the executive producer one year later.

To portray Cohen's tics accurately, Wolk and Kay viewed videotapes and worked with a dialect coach,[6] describing their preparation as a "Tourette's boot camp".[7] Cohen said the portrayal of his tics is "very, very authentic".[8] Heaton, the mother of four children, was attracted to the script because she related to the strong mother: "Finally, she went to the library herself—as mothers will do to fight to the end for their kids and find out what's wrong—and realized he had Tourettes," Heaton explained.[9]

Although tics steadily decline for most children as they pass through adolescence,[10][11] Cohen still has frequent and loud vocal tics and barking. He joked: "I'm hoping I don't get kicked out of my own movie."[8]


The movie was released on DVD in January 2009. A signed copy by author Brad Cohen was also released on DVD.


Cohen was concerned that the movie should stay truthful and avoid sensationalizing Tourette syndrome. He was pleased with the overall result, although he noted some dates in his life were sped up for effect (for example, the date of his wedding).[1]


  1. 1 2 3 Allan, Marc D. (December 7, 2008). "Practicing What He Teaches: Educator Exudes Optimism In the Face of Tourette's". The Washington Post, p. Y03. Retrieved on December 7, 2008.
  2. "Hallmark Hall of Fame TV Movie about Tourette Syndrome to Air in December 2008: True Story Based on Brad Cohen’s Life to Air on CBS". Tourette Syndrome Association. Retrieved on October 13, 2008.
  3. Garron, Barry (December 1, 2008). "'Class' earns high grades with tale of courage". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved on February 22, 2011.
  4. Lowry, Brian (December 3, 2008). "Front of the Class". Variety. Retrieved on February 22, 2011.
  5. "Heaton and Williams star in CBS TV movie" (September 8, 2008). Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved on February 22, 2011.
  6. Fussell, James A. (December 5, 2008). "One man's faith spurs Tourette sufferer to inspire others". The Kansas City Star. Retrieved on December 7, 2008. Also, Fussell, "I know all about living with Tourette syndrome".
  7. Hughes, Mike (December 7, 2008). "Class act: 'Front' tells inspiring tale of award-winning teacher". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved on December 7, 2008.
  8. 1 2 Stevens, Alexis (December 4, 2008). "Teacher's life a drama: CBS to unveil movie about obstacles leaped by Cobb man with Tourette Syndrome". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved on December 7, 2008.
  9. "Heaton Stars In "Front Of The Class": Emmy-Winning Actress Explores Tourette Syndrome In TV Movie". CBS News, December 2, 2008. Retrieved on December 7, 2008.
  10. Leckman JF, Zhang H, Vitale A, et al. "Course of tic severity in Tourette syndrome: the first two decades" (PDF). Pediatrics. 1998;102 (1 Pt 1):14–19. PMID 9651407. Retrieved on October 28, 2006.
  11. Swain JE, Scahill L, Lombroso PJ, King RA, Leckman JF. "Tourette syndrome and tic disorders: a decade of progress". J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2007 Aug; 46(8):947–68 doi:10.1097/chi.0b013e318068fbcc PMID 17667475

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