Is it ever OK for a principal to poach a teacher from another school in his own district?

Q: I’m a high school principal in a large public school district. I know that one of my physics teachers plans to leave to work for a start-up tech firm in a year. He’s been very up front with me about his plans. Years ago, I worked with a phenomenal physics teacher. He’s teaching at another high school in my district. I’d like to recruit him to come to my school. I know that many of my colleagues would consider that poaching. I have some reservations about the practice, but I also have been burned with some terrible teacher placements in the past. What do you think about this practice generally? Is your opinion impacted at all by the fact that I know him personally? Thank you.

A: I completely understand your entrepreneurial instinct. Your desire is to protect your school and your students, and by extension your own reputation. I also am sure that while many principals share your reservations about the practice, it happens quite frequently. That said, it’s complicated. Presumably, you see your fellow principals at meetings. You also need to trust each other. Even without any poaching, there’s natural movement among schools. When principals give dishonest references or poach each other’s teachers, they damage their own reputation and erode trust. And that’s hard to rebuild. It’s not like a football trade where the other principal is guaranteed something in return.

It’s also a slippery slope. When principals do this, they move resources around the district with the sole intention of improving their own school. This can lead to inequity, with some schools hogging all the best talent. In an ideal world, principals aspire to keep, train and develop the teachers in their own building. This includes novice and struggling teachers. It’s better for everyone when teachers are learning and improving, not getting shuffled around and stagnating.

Speaking of shuffling, don’t forget that teachers have free will. Unless they’re involuntarily moved, you need this teacher’s buy-in. While he may be flattered, you have to offer a better opportunity. Since you’re talking about a move within the same district, it’s not like you can offer a different salary or benefits package. Perhaps the lure of working with you will be appealing, or maybe you can offer him a leadership position. Your school may be closer to where he lives, or he may be unhappy with his current supervisor. He may be looking to work with your school’s particular demographic.

As you think this through, make sure you abide by any district policies regarding transfers and timetables. You may need to go to a central office administrator before talking to the individual. This is where personally knowing the teacher can be helpful. If you’ve kept in contact, you can simply mention the position without pressuring him or making any promises. You can suggest that he monitor the job listings if he’s interested.

You could even consider having an open, honest conversation with his principal before approaching him directly. I’d personally prioritize the relationship with the other principal over acquiring one good teacher. Acting in an underhanded way is likely to backfire. The other principal can burn you right back. I’d preserve that collaboration.

I really do appreciate your instinct. It’s self-preservation. No principal wants to end up with a placement who has worked at five schools in four years and has no business being in the classroom. Some degree of teacher movement within the district is good for retention. However, it’s best when it happens in an organic, transparent way that doesn’t distribute talent unfairly.

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PHYLLIS L. FAGELL (@Pfagell; is the school counselor at Sheridan School in Washington, D.C., a therapist at the Chrysalis Group in Bethesda, Md., and the author of the Career Confidential blog. She is also the author of Middle School Matters, available at

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