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The Teacher Who Couldn’t Read

Years ago, as an elementary teacher, I attended a reading conference in Toronto, Ontario. I enjoyed the privilege of hearing keynote speaker, John Corcoran. At the conference, I bought his book, The Teacher Who Couldn’t Read and today treasure my autographed copy. It has graced my bookshelf for quite awhile, but when the idea for my novel Misty Hollow came about, I ran to my shelf, grabbed the book, and gave a victory cheer. His book was the perfect reference in creating my illiterate Appalachian hero, Joel Greenfield.

Corcoran describes an unbelievable story about how he graduated high school and college and actually taught history for seventeen years. At around fourth grade, he began to fall behind and compensated for his handicap by acting out. In high school, he excelled in athletics and was admired by faculty and friends. So how did he get by as a functional illiterate?

He devised clever ways of deception including cheating and lying. With his charismatic personality, he charmed others into reading books and documents to him. Once in college, he actually passed his test out the window to another student who took the exam for him. A favorite deception was claiming he forgot his glasses at home.

While teaching high school, he utilized discussions and debates where texts were never used. He even asked a student to read the morning bulletin to the class, though at the bottom it read “Please don’t let a student read this bulletin.”

He eventually married and had a daughter. He would “read” her bedtime stories by looking at the pictures and making up his own version.

Corcoran doesn’t place blame on the educational system but on his circumstances. Since he went to school in the 50s, educators have discovered more ways to help students with reading disorders. In his thirties, Corcoran finally found the courage to sign up for an adult literacy class and learned to read. He now supports literacy through the John Corcoran Foundation.

In writing Joel’s character, I borrowed some of Corcoran’s methods of compensation. Joel uses the glasses excuse, asks others to read for him, and employs deception such as taking his Bible to church and pretending he’s following along. Most valuable in writing his character were Corcoran’s descriptions of his emotional journey—the shame, frustration, and fear of being exposed.

For all readers with a heart for literacy, Corcoran’s book is a must read. In any case, it’s a fascinating tale. Thanks, Mr. Corcoran, for sharing your story with American. Like my fictional character, Joel Greenfield, many have profited by the telling of your journey.

About the Author:

An award-winning author, June Foster is a retired teacher with a BA in education and MA in counseling. June’s book Give Us This Day was a finalist in EPIC’s eBook awards and a finalist in the National Readers Choice Awards for best first book. Ryan’s Father was one of three finalists in the published contemporary fiction category of the Oregon Christian Writers Cascade Writing Contest and Awards. Deliver Us was a finalist in COTT’s Laurel Awards. June has written four novels for Desert Breeze Publishing. The Bellewood Series, Give Us This Day, As We Forgive, and Deliver Us, and Hometown Fourth of July. Ryan’s Father is published by WhiteFire Publishing. Red and the Wolf, a modern day retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, is available from The Almond Tree series, For All Eternity, Echoes From the Past, What God Knew, and Almond Street Mission are available at June enjoys writing stories about characters who overcome the circumstances in their lives by the power of God and His Word. Recently June has seen publication of Christmas at Raccoon Creek, Lavender Fields Inn, Misty Hollow, and Restoration of the Heart. Visit June at

About Misty Hollow:

When two people are cultures apart, only God can bridge the gap.

Molly Cambridge arrives in the tiny Appalachian town of Misty Hollow intent upon bringing literacy to the area’s uneducated women, only to be met by opposition at every turn by the headstrong, unbending mayor. When she asks for use of Town Hall, he refuses her offer to teach without pay and turns her down flat saying he only allows village business conducted there.

Joel Greenfield, son of a poor dirt farmer, is illiterate. When he admits to his passion to turn the family farm into a dairy business, the obstacles are insurmountable. He couldn’t even read the manual on how to use farming machinery, much less generate the necessary capital. His father’s objections further frustrate his desires.

When Joel offers Molly use of the old barn on the Greenfield property, they discover an irresistible attraction for each other. But the mayor has plans of his own to break them up, send Molly back to Nashville, and seize the Greenfield farm for himself. Can Molly and Joel overcome the hurdles to fulfilling their dreams and find their way to each other? Only God has the answers.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. A great week, Fay. Thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity to appear on your blog. My prayer is for many who find themselves stumbling through an illiterate world, like Joel Greenfield and John Corcoran, will reach out for instruction. It is never too late.

    April 28, 2017

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