The Crab Bucket

By Claudia Felske – The Crab Bucket Theory goes like this:

If there’s a bucket of crabs and one crab tries to crawl up the side of the bucket to freedom, the other crabs pull him down, sending the lot of them to their ultimate demise.  

This actually happens. Doesn’t make much sense, though, does it?

We, as higher-functioning beings, would never behave that way, right? We wouldn’t pull each other down. We would applaud each others’ escape, learn from it, scamper up the side of the bucket, and one by one, ascend, right?

In the best of all possible worlds, that is, but not in this one.

When I achieved National Board Certification, one of my colleagues repeatedly smirked and said, “Oooh, it’s Miss National Boards!” at our every encounter. During meetings and in-services, he’d say, “Let’s ask Miss National Boards. She must know.” This surprised me, at first. I felt like I was back in high school in Freshman English class, hiding the “A+” on my term paper so I wouldn’t be made fun of.

When I became a published author a few years ago, I was ecstatic when my book arrived in the mail with my name on its cover. I wanted to share this moment with my colleagues.  However, memories of “Miss National Boards” led me to show one or two friends; I didn’t even show my English department, though it was a book designed for AP English teachers. They’d resent me; they’d think I was boasting.

When I received the first SMART Board in the district – after writing a matching grant – there were mumblings: why did she get a SMART Board? When I wrote a grant for 3 more boards in my department, the question changed: why does the English Department have 4 SMART Boards? When I took the initiative to become a SMART Board Certified trainer, the question became: why is she our SMART Board Trainer?

When I was named Wisconsin High School Teacher of the Year, the obligatory standing ovation came and some very genuine congrats from my close circle, but there were also a smattering of half-hearted, resentful congrats; some didn’t say a word. I’ve never quite figured out how to interpret that one.

Just the other day, I connected with a colleague in my district who will be receiving a classroom set of laptops next year for her students. She expressed the fear of “how she would tell” the other teachers in her building. It was then that I had an epiphany: it wasn’t just me; I wasn’t just paranoid: the Crab Bucket Theory is alive and well across the field of education.

What is it about education that makes mediocrity king, and achievement suspect?  The more terrifying question being: does this quest for mediocrity trickle down to our students?

I recently expanded my teaching role into other teacher’s classrooms, providing technology integration support to teachers. I feel mostly supported in this position, but a few people in my district are clearly threatened by it and miss no opportunity for sabotage or gossip. 

I will continue to publish, write grants, try new technologies, follow cutting edgers on Twitter and the Blogosphere. I’m not done learning, never will be. So things will keep happening for me, but as each one does, I’m certain I will feel the crab claws reaching toward me, snapping…

And to those pincers pointed directly at me, I say, “Ascend! It is your Birth Right!” Climb up that bucket, read professionally, write grants, continue your education, try new things in your classroom.

There’s plenty of room for everyone outside the bucket.  

1 Response to “The Crab Bucket”


  1. 1 billhenk May 2, 2012 at 2:58 am

    Your excellent post reminds us that the price of seeking excellence often amounts to envy. Those committed to making the world a better place must demonstrate courage and resilience in its presence as you have, Claudia. Keep fighting the good fight. Our school kids need and deserve champions like you.

    Like


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