Teaching Note from Nicole Sledge: I choose to use this excerpt because year after year, I encounter students who seem to do just enough work to "get by" and who appear to have a "fear of academically succeeding. After the read-aloud, we have a follow-up discussion using either Socratic Seminar or the Fish Bowl Activity . Both Socratic Seminar and Fish Bowl are means of facilitating in-depth discussions between students based on a particular text. Below the excerpt, you will find a few sample guided questions to use during either of those activities.
Introduction to the text: Andy, the main character, is going through a great deal of turmoil dealing with the recent accidental death of his best friend. Because of this, Andy’s parents have sent him to discuss his problems with a psychologist. Below is a piece of their discussion during Andy’s second visit.
There is this kid in my class named Marcus who always makes good grades. We call him the “curve buster.” All the other brothers in class be akin’ Cs and Ds. My man Marcus be pullin’ As on a regular basis. Instead of that makin’ him popular, we all hate him.
-Why do you think that’s true?
-‘Cause he’s doin’ somethin’ that all our parents have told us we could do, but somehow we just can’t. It’s like easier to just “make do,” to get by. I like getting’ good grades, but my friends talk about me if I get called up to the front on Awards Day with all the white kids. It’s easier to sit in the back of the auditorium, and laugh, and make hootin’ noises when people like Mary Alice Applesapple go up to get their Honor Roll awards.
-What do you think your dad would think of kids like Marcus or Mary Alice?
-He’d probably want me to marry the girl. And I’d get a big speech about Marcus and how black youngsters need to achieve and how we got to work so hard to show ourselves better than the white students. I’ve heard it a million times.
-But your dad’s speeches don’t have any meaning for you?
-Look, when my dad was seventeen, he was already out of school and workin’ full-time in the mail room of Proctor and Gamble. He didn’t have to worry ‘bout getting’ into college, because the chance wasn’t there. And he didn’t have to worry about scholarships or stupid school counselors or just plain feelin’ useless.
-I bet he had his share of feeling useless. Have you ever talked to him about it?
-Naw, man. My dad don’t talk. He lectures, he preaches, he yells. But we don’t ever just talk.
-What about your counselors at school? Are they any help? If I remember, when I was in high school, the counselor was there to help kids out who had academic problems, or problems at home.
-You had counselors who would talk to black students and see their point of view and help them out?
-No, you’re right. It was probably even worse when I was in school. I just happened to be fortunate enough to find a lady who recognized a spark in me and gave me some direction.
-I don’t know what it was like back then, but all my counselor be doin’ is makin’ up schedules and callin’ people out of class, as far as I can tell. We got one or two that maybe I could talk to, but they’re assigned to another grade level. I’m stuck with the one I got.
-Have you ever talked to your counselor?
-Yeah, once, I did. It was a waste of time. I went to see her about graduation requirements and that kind of stuff. She’s this wrinkled old bat with bad breath, so kids avoid her. I tried to sit downwind of her breath, but it was right after lunch and she kept burpin’ little bursts of garlic. It was really gross. So I was tryin’ to get out of there as quick as possible, and she’s givin’ me this speech about career goals, so I happen to mention that I might like to go into pre-law. She looked at me like I said I wanna see her with her pants down. She said someone with my athletic potential shouldn’t be tryin’ to make his college career too complicated. She said, “Why don’t you major in P.E., enjoy your college years, then maybe come back here in a few years and teach gym?” She said pre-law was too demandin’ and that I couldn’t afford to miss all those classes while we were on the road playin’ basketball, and that my grades would slip and I probably wouldn’t get accepted into a law school anyway. Now I have nothin’ against gym teachers, but I’ve always liked “L.A. Law” and even “Perry Mason.” But after talking to her, I felt, you know, kinda useless. So what difference does it make if I make good grades or not?
Note: This excerpt starts on page 55 of ‘Tears of a Tiger’ and ends on page 58.
Sample Guided Questions
Have you ever made fun of someone for getting a good grade or for receiving an academic award?
How did that make you feel and what made you do this?
Where you ever made fun of for getting a good grade or for receiving an academic award? How did that make you feel and why do you think it happened?
Why do you think that Andy’s guidance counselor tried to persuade him to become a gym teacher instead of a lawyer? What can you infer about the guidance counselor because of this?
Does it make a difference if Andy makes good grades or not?
Do you think that Andy struggles with his schoolwork? How do you know?
Did anyone make a text-to-self connection with Andy? How so?