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Everyone is born with some shortcomings but not everyone has the courage to battle against them and persevere until they conquer it. John Corcoran is one of such few gems who, after having a 17-year long teaching career, disclosed that he could not read or write. This secret, when revealed, gave people around him a shock, but on the other hand, it also gave motivation to them to not to give up no matter what.

In second grade, it dawned upon John that he was having a problem while reading. “For me it was like opening a Chinese newspaper and looking at it”, he says. He was a kid then and thus didn’t know how he should convey the issue to his parents or teachers that for him, the words were simply tiny lines joined in different combinations. Every night, he would pray, “Please Lord, let me know how to read tomorrow when I get up”. But fate had more storms in store for him to face.

His class fellows started calling him “dumb”. They were given sticks to hit him if John refused to read. Thus, the harsh environment and fruitless efforts were enough to make him lose hope. The fear of never being able to read was engraved on his mind.

But he did not want to be alienated. He had to find a way out. Therefore, all the struggles he made were to conceal the secret from everyone because he considered it the only way to survive in the society. So, he passed all the grades, one by one, by cheating. He had relations with people who had past paper files. He would ask other students to do his homework, to write assignments and to give quizzes. He earned his college degree when he was not even able to read a kids’ story.

John went to 17 schools before getting a job. There was shortage of teachers in a school, so he was offered the job there. It is something that is hard to believe, but it happened. He says, “I got out of the lion’s cage and then I got back in to taunt the lion again.” But while teaching, he had this guilt in his heart that he is deceiving his students. This guilt resulted in sleepless nights. There was fear, too. Fear of being caught. He started to feel insecure but he was not ready to tell the truth to the world.

While he was teaching, he got married. He decided to reveal his secret to his wife before they got married, but she didn’t understand. She thought he was talking about not being able to give reading enough time.

The time passed by, and one day this unbelievable truth was unleashed. He was telling a story from a storybook to his daughter but she complained, “You are not reading it like mama” and that was the moment when his wife got to know about his inability to read. But unexpectedly, she didn’t say a word of complaint and kept helping him as she did before. But his feeling of being dumb and deceitful was still there.

One day, he heard Barbara Bush talking about adult literacy in her talk. That talk made John realize that he was not alone. Barbara was the person that inspired John to think about the solution to the problem once again. He was yearning to share it with someone but fear came in the way.

One day, he overheard two women talking about a literacy program in a library. That moment, John was exceedingly surprised. He, soon, went to that library, talked to the director of that program and finally, talked out his problem.

So, now, at the age of 48, he started doing something that others do when they are 5 or 6. He learned how the lines joined together work. “But it took me about seven years to feel like I was a literate person. I cried, I cried, and I cried after I started learning to read – there was a lot of pain and a lot of frustration – but it filled a big hole in my soul.”, he says.

Now, he was encouraged by his tutor to reveal his secret to the whole world. Initially, he was reluctant but continuous emphasis by his tutor made him do so. He announced in front of audience of 200 people that he had been teaching for 17 years without knowing how to read. At first, people were not willing to accept it and thought he was making the story up but there were some who found his story captivating and motivating enough.

It took a long time for John to get the idea of remaining illiterate forever get erased from his mind and to start believing in himself. Throughout the five decades of his life, it had been his utmost desire to be able to learn, that’s why when he found someone who could teach him how to read, he started to learn, not caring about his age. He has also written a book about his journey, “A teacher who couldn’t read”. He has also established a foundation for those who can’t read. After coming out as a winner, he does not want anyone else to suffer from the same fate as he did.




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