A teacher who couldn’t read sounds unbelievable, but it is true. John Corcoran was a high school teacher and coach, a college graduate, and he had a huge secret. He couldn’t read.
John attended 17 different schools before he got his first full time job.
He had teachers who tried to teach him, but the marks on the page never made sense to him. He had teachers who tried to help him, but as he moved from school to school their short term efforts did not help him become literate. John was assigned again and again to the row at the back with other students who were struggling.
John learned to hate being in the “dumb row.” He also eventually learned to cope with his disability by developing ways to learn through listening and observing. John learned which people were valuable assets in his “human library.” He also learned to cheat, lie and steal just to survive the system and attain his goals.
One day his 3-year-old daughter asked him to read her a bedtime story. John could not, and felt a deep sense of shame as his wife cried herself to sleep.
Still it was years before he reached a point where he walked into a library that had a literacy program and asked for help. John was reassured by the program’s director that he was not alone. She paired him up with a tutor who patiently spent 13 months teaching him the basic phonics skills he had never mastered as a youth. John learned the basics of reading at 48 years old.
John still struggled. The words never seemed to flow easily into his brain. Then he was contacted by an expert in reading disorders and agreed to go to the Lindamood-Bell clinic for testing. There he learned that his brain could not easily distinguish between differences in sound. He could not process the difference between certain sounds like d and t. Suddenly John understood why reading had always been such a struggle for him. With specific therapy a whole new world was opened up for John, and he made huge leaps in his ability to decode and recognize words, spell, follow oral directions, and comprehend what he reads.
Now John shares his story and has started a foundation to fight against illiteracy in the United States.
More of his story is found in his book The Teacher Who Couldn’t Read: One man’s triumph over illiteracy, which I highly recommend.
You can also hear John tell his story in this video posted by Voice of Literacy:
If you or someone you know needs help reading, contact one of these area organizations to get help like John did. He did it, so can you!