Q: I’m in a weird position. I work at a high school, and I have a pretty good relationship with another teacher in my science department. He’s a respected teacher. The kids like him, and they perform well on the AP bio exam after taking his course. He’s been at the school for four years, and I’ve worked with him for three years. We’ve always gotten along, but he’s a bit of a “big talker.” He once shared that he’d worked in the lab of a well-known researcher. I’ll admit I was impressed and it stuck with me. So when I met this scientist at a conference, I used my colleague as an excuse to approach him. Well, it turns out my colleague did NOT work in this man’s laboratory. The scientist didn’t remember him at all. I know this may make me sound like a stalker, but I started to wonder if anything he had told me was true. On a whim, I called his graduate school (yes, he said he went to Harvard) to verify his attendance. Sure enough, the school said they had no record of him graduating from there. I haven’t said anything to my principal and feel paralyzed. Do I need to rat out my colleague?
A: You’re making a lot of assumptions, though I can see why you think they’re well-founded. You don’t know for a fact that he didn’t work for this scientist — the researcher could have a poor memory. Your colleague could be lying about Harvard to impress people, but even so, he may have listed the actual school he attended on his CV. You haven’t seen it, so you don’t know. So the first question is, how deep do you want to wade into this teacher’s business? For argument’s sake, however, let’s assume he lied and break this down.
Teachers are supposed to be role models. How can staff expect students to be honest if they’re falsifying their own credentials? When teachers lie about their experience, it impacts the whole culture and compromises the integrity of the school. Also, if you’re in a system that pays based on “steps,” and if he padded his years of experience, then he could be throwing off the scale. It’s possible that he’s better compensated than colleagues with more experience.
But while his behavior, if verified, is unethical and wrong, that doesn’t make your decision an easy one. As I see it, you could take a few different approaches. For one, you could choose to stay in your lane and quit investigating. Presumably, he went through a hiring process, and he may have signed a document verifying that his application is truthful. If he lied and human resources figures it out, he’ll probably be fired, but you could argue that that’s on them. None of this is part of your job. You don’t hire, evaluate, discipline, or fire teachers.
In addition, this teacher is a good colleague and a capable, effective, and well-liked teacher. You have to weigh your desire to do the right thing against the possibility that you’re wrong and could irreparably damage his reputation. As you said, he’s a big talker. What he tells you personally might not match what he wrote on that resume. If that’s the case, he should still cut it out, but it’s not against the law to be self-aggrandizing and obnoxious.
On the other hand, you might feel that this is your problem. Would staying quiet feel like a violation of your own ethics? If it came out later that you knew and did nothing, could you be penalized? You might want to consult an HR compliance specialist to gain a better understanding of what’s at stake for you. You also could talk it through with your principal and let them take it from there. Whatever you do, I would not confront the teacher directly.
Ultimately, this is a personal decision. If you do decide to share your concerns, however, I’d take a measured approach. I’d hand it over to someone better equipped to handle the situation. I’d stop collecting clues. I’d also make it clear that you’re operating on a hunch and could be wrong. And then I’d take a big step back and stay out of it. Even if you make a report, this isn’t your problem to solve.
Have a question that you’d like Career Confidential to answer? Email to firstname.lastname@example.org. All names and schools will remain confidential. No identifying information will be included in the published questions and answers.