Home / Beauty Tips / ‘I was a teacher for 17 years, but I couldn’t read or write’

‘I was a teacher for 17 years, but I couldn’t read or write’

John Corcoran in 2008Image copyright


John Corcoran grew up in New Mexico in the USA throughout the 1940s and 50s. One of six siblings, he graduated from highschool, went on to college, and turned into a teacher within the 1960s – a activity he held for 17 years. But, as he explains right here, he concealed an bizarre secret.

When I was a kid I was instructed via my folks that I was a winner, and for the primary six years of my existence I believed what my folks had instructed me.

I was past due in speaking, but I went off to university with prime hopes of studying to read like my sisters, and for the primary yr issues have been high-quality as a result of there were not many calls for on us as opposed to status in the fitting line, sitting down, protecting our mouths close and going to the toilet on time.

And then in the second one grade we have been meant to learn how to read. But for me it was like opening a Chinese newspaper and taking a look at it – I did not perceive what the ones traces have been, and as a kid of six, seven, 8 years outdated I did not understand how to articulate the issue.

I consider praying at evening and pronouncing, “Please Lord, let me know how to read tomorrow when I get up” and infrequently I’d even flip at the gentle and get a ebook and take a look at it and notice if I were given a miracle. But I did not get that miracle.

At college I ended up within the dumb row with a bunch of alternative children who have been having a exhausting time studying to read. I did not understand how I were given there, I did not understand how to get out and I indubitably did not know what query to invite.


The teacher did not name it the “dumb row” – there wasn’t any cruelty or anything else – but the children known as it the dumb row, and when you find yourself in that dumb row you get started considering you might be dumb.

At teacher meetings my teacher instructed my folks, “He’s a smart boy, he’ll get it,” and so they moved me directly to the 3rd grade.

“He’s a smart boy, he’ll get it,” and so they moved me directly to the fourth grade.

“He’s a smart boy, he’ll get it,” and so they moved me directly to the 5th grade.

But I wasn’t getting it.

By the time I were given to the 5th grade I’d principally given up on myself with regards to studying. I were given up each day, were given dressed, went to university and I was going to struggle. I hated the study room. It was a opposed atmosphere and I needed to in finding a approach to continue to exist.

By the 7th grade I was sitting within the main’s place of job many of the day. I was in fights, I was defiant, I was a clown, I was a disruptor, I were given expelled from college.

But that behaviour wasn’t who I felt inside of – it wasn’t who I sought after to be. I sought after to be someone else, I had a need to be successful, I sought after to be a excellent scholar, but I simply could not do it.

By the time I were given to the 8th grade I were given bored with embarrassing myself and my circle of relatives. I determined I was going to act myself now – in case you behave in highschool you’ll be able to in finding your manner in the course of the device. So I was going to be a teacher’s puppy and do the entirety essential to go that device.

I sought after to be an athlete – I had athletic abilities, and I had maths abilities – I may depend cash and make alternate earlier than I even went to university and I realized the days tables.

I had social abilities too – I ran round with faculty children, I dated the valedictorian – the scholar with the very best grades who offers a speech on the commencement rite, I was the homecoming king, I had other people – most commonly women – do my homework for me.

I may write my title and there have been some phrases that I may consider, but I could not write a sentence – I was in highschool and studying at the second one or 3rd grade point. And I by no means instructed anyone that I could not read.

When I was taking a check I would take a look at any individual else’s paper, or I’d go my paper over to someone else and they would resolution the questions for me – it was quite simple, novice dishonest. But when I went off to school on a complete athletic scholarship it was a other tale.

I idea, “Oh my gosh, this is way over my head, how am I going to be able to get through this?”


I belonged to a social fraternity who had copies of outdated examination papers. That was one approach to cheat. I attempted to take categories with a spouse, someone who would lend a hand me thru. There have been professors who used the similar check yr after yr. But I additionally needed to lodge to extra inventive and determined issues.

In one examination the professor put 4 questions at the board. I was sitting in the back of the room, close to the window, in the back of the older scholars.

I had my blue ebook and I painstakingly copied the 4 questions off the board. I did not know what the ones questions mentioned.

I had organized for a good friend of mine to be out of doors the window. He was more than likely the neatest child at school, but he was additionally shy and he’d requested me to mend him up with a woman via the title of Mary who he sought after to visit the spring formal dance with.

I handed my blue ebook out the window to him and he responded the questions for me.

I had every other blue examination ebook beneath my blouse and I took it out and pretended I was writing in it.

I was praying that my good friend was going so to get my ebook again to me and that he was going to get the fitting solutions.

I was so determined. I had to go classes. I was in peril.

Find out extra

  • Listen to John Corcoran on Outlook Weekend at the BBC World Service
  • Or obtain the podcast right here

There was every other examination that I could not work out how I was going to go.

One evening I went via the professor’s place of job about middle of the night, he wasn’t there. I opened the window with a knife and I went in like a cat burglar. I’d crossed the road now – I wasn’t simply a scholar that was dishonest, I was a prison.

I went inside of and I appeared round for the examination. It needed to be in his place of job but I could not in finding it. There was a record cupboard that was locked – it needed to be within the record cupboard.

I did the similar factor two or 3 nights in a row taking a look for that examination but I nonetheless could not in finding it. So one evening, about one o’clock within the morning, I introduced 3 of my pals with me and we went to the place of job. We performed a four-drawer record cupboard, put it in a car, and took it off campus to a faculty condo.

I had organized for a locksmith to return. I put my swimsuit and tie on – I was pretending to be a younger businessman who was leaving for Los Angeles day after today and the locksmith was saving my activity via opening it.

He opened it, gave me a key, and likely sufficient, to my nice reduction there have been greater than 40 copies of the examination – a a couple of selection paper – within the most sensible drawer of the record cupboard. I took one reproduction again to my dormitory, the place a “smart” classmate made a cheat sheet with the entire right kind solutions.

We carried the record cupboard again and at 5 o’clock within the morning I was strolling as much as my room and considering, “Mission impossible accomplished!” – and I was feeling beautiful excellent that I was so suave.

But then I walked up the steps, lay down in my mattress and began weeping like a child.

Why did not I ask for lend a hand? Because I did not consider there was anyone available in the market who may educate me to read. This was my secret and I guarded that secret.

Media playback is unsupported in your tool

Media captionJohn Corcoran tells Outlook how he concealed his lack of ability to read

My lecturers and my folks instructed me that individuals with faculty levels recuperate jobs, they’ve higher lives, and so that is what I believed. My motivation was to only get that piece of paper. Maybe via osmosis, possibly via prayer, possibly via a miracle I would sooner or later learn how to read.

So I graduated from faculty, and when I graduated there was a teacher scarcity and I was introduced a activity. It was essentially the most illogical factor you’ll be able to believe – I were given out of the lion’s cage after which I were given again in to taunt the lion once more.

Why did I pass into educating? Looking again it was loopy that I would do this. But I’d been thru highschool and school with out getting stuck – so being a teacher appeared a excellent position to cover. Nobody suspects a teacher of no longer understanding the best way to read.

I taught a lot of various issues. I was an athletics trainer. I taught social research. I taught typing – I may copy-type at 65 phrases a minute but I did not know what I was typing. I by no means wrote on a blackboard and there was no published phrase in my study room. We watched a lot of flicks and had a lot of discussions.

I consider how anxious I was. I could not even take the roll – I needed to ask the scholars to pronounce their names so I may pay attention their names. And I all the time had two or 3 scholars who I known early – those who may read and write absolute best in the study room – to lend a hand me. They have been my educating aids. They did not suspect in any respect – you do not suspect the teacher.


One of my largest fears was college conferences. We had them as soon as a week and if the academics have been brainstorming the main would name on someone to get the ones concepts directly to the board. I lived in concern that he would name on me, each week I was terrified, but I had a backup plan.

If he had known as on me I was going to get out of my chair and take two steps, snatch my chest, drop to the ground and hope they known as 911. Whatever it took to not get stuck, and I by no means were given stuck.

Sometimes I felt like a excellent teacher – as a result of I labored exhausting at it and I truly cared about what I was doing – but I wasn’t. It was unsuitable. I did not belong in the study room, I was trespassing. I wasn’t meant to be there and infrequently what I was doing made me bodily in poor health, but I was trapped, I could not inform anyone.

I were given married whilst I was a teacher. Getting married is a sacrament, it is a dedication to be honest with someone else and this was the primary time I idea, “OK, I’m going to trust this person, I’m going to tell her.”

I practised in entrance of the reflect: “Cathy, I can’t read. Cathy, I can’t read.”

And one night we have been sitting at the sofa and I mentioned, “Cathy, I can’t read.”

But she did not truly perceive what I was pronouncing. She idea I was pronouncing that I did not read a lot.

You know, love is blind and deaf.

So we were given married and we had a kid and years later it truly got here house to her.

I was studying to our three-year-old daughter. We read to her automatically, but I wasn’t truly studying, I was making the tales up – tales that I knew, like Goldilocks and The Three Bears, I simply added drama to them.

But this was a new ebook, Rumpelstiltskin, and my daughter mentioned, “You’re not reading it like mama.”

My spouse heard me seeking to read from a kid’s ebook and that was the primary time that it dawned on her. I were asking her to do all this writing for me, serving to me write issues for college, after which she in any case realised, how deep and critical this was.

But not anything was mentioned, there was no disagreement, she simply carried on serving to me get via.

Image caption

John Corcoran and his granddaughter, Kayla Mertes: It was when “reading” to his daughter that John’s secret was published

It did not relieve anything else as a result of in my intestine I felt dumb and I felt like a pretend. I was deceitful. I was educating my scholars to be seekers of reality and I was the most important liar within the room. The reduction simplest got here when I in any case realized to read.

I taught highschool from 1961 to 1978. Eight years after I give up my educating activity, one thing in any case modified.

I was 47 occurring 48 when I noticed Barbara Bush – then Second Lady of the USA – speaking about grownup literacy on TV. It was her particular reason. I’d by no means heard anyone speaking about grownup literacy earlier than, I idea I was the one particular person on this planet that was within the scenario I was in.

I was at this determined spot in my existence. I sought after to inform someone and I sought after to get lend a hand and sooner or later within the grocery retailer I was status in line and there have been two girls in entrance of me speaking about their grownup brother who was going to the library. He was studying to read and so they have been simply stuffed with pleasure and I could not consider it.

So one Friday afternoon in my pinstriped swimsuit I walked into the library and requested to look the director of the literacy programme and I sat down along with her and I instructed her I could not read.

That was the second one particular person in my grownup existence that I had ever instructed.

Image caption

Barbara Bush impressed John Corcoran to invite for lend a hand and in any case learn how to read

I had a volunteer tutor – she was 65 years outdated. She wasn’t a teacher, she was simply someone who liked to read and did not suppose anyone must undergo existence with out understanding the best way to.

One of the issues that she had me do within the early levels was to take a look at to write down as a result of I had a lot of these ideas in my thoughts and I’d by no means written a sentence. The very first thing that I wrote was a poem about my emotions. One of the issues about poetry is that you just wouldn’t have to understand what a entire sentence is, and also you wouldn’t have to write down in entire sentences.

She were given me to about sixth-grade-level studying – I idea I’d died and long past to heaven. But it took me about seven years to really feel like I was a literate particular person. I cried, I cried, and I cried after I began studying to read – there was a lot of ache and a lot of frustration – but it crammed a large hollow in my soul. Adults who can not read are suspended of their childhoods, emotionally, psychologically, academically, spiritually. We have not grown up but.

I was inspired to inform my tale via my tutor to inspire others and advertise literacy, but I mentioned, “No way. I’ve lived in this community for 17 years, my children are here, my wife is here – she’s a professional, my parents are here, I’m not going to tell this story.”

Image caption

John Corcoran and contributors of his circle of relatives lately

But sooner or later I determined I would. It was an embarrassing secret and it was a shame-based secret, so it was a large choice.

It wasn’t simple but as soon as I’d made up my thoughts I was going to inform the tale I instructed all of it throughout America, I spoke to anyone that will concentrate. I guarded this secret for a long time after which I blasted it to the arena.

I was on Larry King, I was at the ABC News mag display 20/20, I was on Oprah.

If you understand any individual who wishes lend a hand

  • John Corcoran arrange a basis in his title to lend a hand adults and youngsters with literacy abilities – in California and on-line
  • In the United Kingdom the National Literacy Trust web site lists organisations that advertise grownup literacy
  • These come with Read Easy and the Reading Agency

It was uncomfortable for other people to listen to the tale of the teacher who could not read. Some other people mentioned it was not possible and that I was making the entire tale up.

But I need other people to understand there’s hope, there’s a resolution. We don’t seem to be “dumb”, we will learn how to read, it is by no means too past due.

Unfortunately we’re nonetheless pushing youngsters and teenagers thru college with out educating them fundamental studying and writing abilities. But we will destroy this cycle of failure if as a substitute of blaming lecturers we ensure they’re correctly educated.

For 48 years I was at the hours of darkness. But I in any case were given the monkey off my again, I in any case buried the ghost of my previous.

Written via Sarah McDermott. Photographs courtesy of John Corcoran.

Listen to John Corcoran on Outlook Weekend

Join the dialog – in finding us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.



About admin

Check Also

Grave of the Fireflies: The haunting relevance of Studio Ghibli’s darkest film

Image copyright STUDIO GHIBLI  Image caption ‘Why should fireflies die so younger?’ Japanese animation large …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: