Elton Haydel recalls that as a Frederick County Public Schools student he never had a teacher who looked like him.

Haydel, who is black, said the lack of a figure with whom he could identify left a void as to what he thought he might be able to do with his life — even though his parents had successful careers in teaching and veterinarian services.

“When I was young, I had one type of teacher,” Haydel said. “And I couldn’t connect with them. They couldn’t understand what I had been through. They came from a different world.”

Now, as a teacher at Ballenger Creek Middle School — a school that is nearly half minority students — Haydel is filling the role he never had someone to fill.

“I thought I could be a value to kids who look like me,” Haydel said. “I want to give them something I never had.”

But, as has been the case nationwide for decades, there aren’t enough Elton Haydels in the county to go around.

A lack of diversity

Frederick County Public Schools faces a lack of minority teachers. In 2014-2015, the most recent school year for which the state has demographic data, 64.5 percent of Frederick County students were white, and 35.5 percent were non-white. That same year, 171 teachers in the county were non-white — making up just 6.3 percent of the population, which is well behind the state average of nearly 25 percent non-white teachers.

The discrepancy is even more jarring when looking at black teachers — black men in particular. In 2014-2015, just nine of the district’s teachers were black men. The 62 black teachers in FCPS that year made up 2.3 percent of the teaching population. Nineteen of the 24 school districts in Maryland had more black teachers than Frederick County, which had the 12th most non-white students in the state.

Earl Robbins, of Kappa Alpha Psi, said his fraternity has worked with FCPS for nearly 20 years in an effort to get more black teachers into the school system. The district hired 31 minority teachers, including 12 black teachers this year, he said, which is an improvement, but not close to where he wants it.

“It’s been a pet peeve of mine for years,” Robbins said. “I don’t think the county does a good job of hiring those minority teachers. I know salary is a big issue. It’s tough out there, but I’m not always satisfied the county sends the right message to students looking for a profession to get in.”

Board member Ken Kerr, who recently gave a presentation on a teacher apprenticeship program he would hope to use to develop more minority teachers, said the district would need to hire 82 minority teachers to have the teaching body match the demographics of the county’s students, which the board of education has set as a strategic goal.

But, there are challenges to meeting those numbers, in particular for Frederick County, which has historically paid its teachers less than neighboring counties.

“Our numbers are low,” said Eric Phillips, the school district’s supervisor of accelerating achievement and equity. “We want a diverse workforce, sure, but when you’re a new teacher that’s in demand, and you have options, there’s going to have to be something that drives me to a school system where I get paid less when another school system will pay me more.”

Despite the fairly low numbers, Frederick County had the most diverse teaching force of any county in Western Maryland — made up of Garrett, Allegany, Washington and Frederick counties — according to the 2014-2015 numbers.

A national teacher shortage makes teacher recruitment more difficult for the district, including an even greater shortage of minority teachers, according to a 2016 study by the Learning Policy Institute.

With such a small labor pool to choose from, the recruitment of those minority teachers is of increasing importance — and difficulty.

“We’re trying to get those teachers, but so is everyone else,” Phillips said. “So one of the things we’re looking at is, are we doing enough to draw a diverse workforce?”

Filling the gap

Even though a 2017 study by Johns Hopkins University showed that black students who have even one black teacher are 39 percent more likely to graduate from high school than black students who do not, the district isn’t setting out to hire minorities just to have representation. They’re still looking for the best teachers, Phillips said.

“It’s a good goal to have,” Phillips said. “We do want our staff to reflect our student population, but we also have to be aware of our constraints that are not of our making.”

So, Phillips is leading an initiative toward cultural proficiency — a broad phrase that is being interwoven into everything the school system does, Phillips said.

Cultural proficiency, Phillips said, is a tool that leads to equity in the school system. The intent behind it is to have administrators, teachers, students and community members take a deep look at how they interact with others in an effort to better understand the factors that make them who they are. Cultural proficiency takes into account factors such as race, ethnicity, political affiliation, religious beliefs, work experience — everything that makes a person who they are.

In part, it requires people to confront their implicit biases in order to better understand their co-workers and for students to be able to build a relationship with those groups.

Toni Madrid, a third-grade teacher at Hillcrest Elementary, came to FCPS this year after moving from Texas. Madrid, who is Hispanic, has a similar story to Haydel. Growing up, none of her teachers ever looked like her.

“My sister actually came home from school one day and told my mom, ‘Mom I’m the only brown person at my school,’ and that actually really upset my mom,” Madrid said. “I remember not having that person to connect to, and I just wanted to be that person students could connect to.”

In Texas, nearly everyone looked like Madrid. Many of her students were of Mexican descent, as were her co-workers. By moving to Maryland, she was greeted by students of all different backgrounds.

“Even when you see a Hispanic student, you can’t assume the student is Mexican,” Madrid said. “You have to build that relationship through talking with them and understanding their background and their cultures to find out what makes them who they are.”

Madrid admits that there’s value to having a teacher who looks like his or her students, but skin color and ethnicity don’t preclude a teacher from learning about a student’s culture to better understand them.

Along with striving to build cultural proficiency among staff members, the district has also ramped up its recruiting of minority teachers by visiting historically black colleges and universities, and putting forth the effort in building those relationships.

Each year, Robbins’ fraternity holds a welcoming ceremony for the district’s minority teachers. Just as a teacher who looks like a student can inspire that student, teachers can find support in being around those who look like them, Robbins said.

“People have been leaving because there’s more money to be made elsewhere,” Robbins said. “We started this reception as a small way to let them know they are supported.”

The fraternity goes on recruiting trips as well to try and lure minority teachers to FCPS, Robbins said.

FCPS has also implemented a future teacher program at the Career and Technology Center that is made up of local students who have said they want to enter the teaching profession. The academy currently has 23 students enrolled.

Ideally, Kerr’s apprenticeship program would cherry-pick kids from the teaching academy and put them into the four-year program, developing homegrown teachers who would be committed to FCPS.

But the district still needs to be able to give potential teachers a reason to pursue Frederick County as a place to work.

When Phillips, who is black and attended school in Montgomery County, readied to graduate from college, he attended a job fair, and Montgomery County Public Schools hired him on the spot — something many school systems do to increase minority hires, Phillips said.

Frederick County, however, is trying to balance how aggressive it is in diversifying its teaching body, with being equitable.

“One of the things that’s most important is the relationship that the teacher is able to form with that group of students,” Phillips said.

There are also inherent biases in minority teachers that sometimes keep them from teaching in a system that is largely white, Phillips said. Phillips recalled a student at a job fair who said she felt she couldn’t see herself teaching in an affluent school district.

“She said she didn’t think she could teach in a city other than the one she grew up in,” Phillips said. “She said she felt like the students in the white, affluent areas would be smarter and know more than her.

“I valued the fact that she was vulnerable enough to say that in front of her peers. So that’s another part we need to consider. We want to recruit a diverse workforce, but does a diverse workforce want to come here?”


Phillips said he made the transition to Frederick County nearly 20 years ago, because the school system made him feel valued, which is also a reason Haydel said he wanted to come to the school system. His mother worked for FCPS, and the recruiters in the school system pushed hard to get him to make the jump this year from a school district in New Orleans.

“They were really pitching it to me hard,” Haydel said. “And they were there every time I had a question. It really made me feel like I was wanted.”

Although Haydel liked New Orleans, the school systems there lack the resources he felt like he needed to make a difference — and funding only continued to decrease, he said.

His students didn’t have access to Chromebooks and lesson plans were often scripted, Haydel recalled. The stresses of life in New Orleans had some students afraid to even get on and off the school bus.

Soon, he felt that a move was necessary. FCPS helped him with the paperwork to gain reciprocity and make his Louisiana teaching certificate a Maryland teaching certificate.

More importantly, when he has asked for help or guidance, the support has been there, he said.

“Everyone I’ve met has shown that they truly care for me,” Haydel said. “They really want to draw you here because it’s a great place to teach, and they’ve shown me that since day one.”

Follow Allen Etzler on Twitter: @AllenWEtzler.

(35) comments


If the only people we can learn from are those who look, think and act like us we are lost as a multicultural society. We will be Balkanized even further (see Yugoslavia 1918-1994.)


Why aren't there any black lawyers, judges, prosecutors, primary care physicians, dentists in Frederick County?


Hiring committees really need to be concerned about this stuff. Is the person gay, lesbian, bisexual, or even better yet transsexual. I mean just imagine how wonderful it would be for the students if we could hire a lesbian transgender that's still bisexual. She could currently be a man, and it would be even better if she was an American Indian that was Muslim with Jewish leanings. But went to a catholic college. This would be wonderful. Everyone would love her. Or is it she? Whatever. Does it really matter.


There a number of studies in the education field concerning this topic. Most of the them agree that having a minority teacher in the school, not necessarily in the classroom has a positive effect on minority students. Grades go up, drop-out rate goes down. No one can argue about that. And for those worried about race and ethnic groups. Don't worry other census data shows that the white population is the slowest growing group in America. By around 2050-60 the white population will be in the minority. Then what are you going to do?



It doesn't sound like "getting the best" is important anymore, at least to this writer, now we have to match everything up by skin color and ethnicity, I guess for the purpose of having black students taught by black teachers, and whites taught by whites and so forth, so to do that we 'll have to have separate classes and hey what about the LGBTQ's they have rights to teachers they can relate to also ...maybe we should build separate schools so that people of different backgrounds never have to even look at each other....in which case I am certain everyone will be A++++ students...Once upon a time in America we were ONE people and we excelled....and now its time for divisiveness... that will bring us to the level of the 3rd world whatever that is


Jersey, this could be the silliest response you ever posted! But congratulations for not mentioning Hillary, Bill or Barack :)


I totally agree with you. No one is ever satisfied.


"Once upon a time in America we were ONE people and we excelled"......when was that jerseygrl?????


1972. You know, when the Democrats adopted diversity, multiculturalism and the death of patriarchy as unassailable truths. When assimilation was the goal. Interestingly, it still is the goal of most immigrants. My wife's family from Guyana in South America came here to live the American dream, not some facsimile of the messed-up world they knew in Guyana. They come here, are met by Democrats who tell them how valuable the misogyny, the pay-to-play politics and the kleptocracy they fled is, shake their heads and vote Republican. Through faith, hard work, and sobriety, many of them have done quite well and are quite thankful.


E Pluribus unum Phy. Look it up.


No one thinks that Frederick County should hire unqualified teachers in order to boost their minority numbers. There are many QUALIFIED minority teachers out there that FCPS has to figure out how to lure to our county. Yes, I am Elton Haydel's mother and I have taught for FCPS for 30 years and counting. How did I get him to come back? He could make a lot more than he was making in New Orleans, the great healthcare package offered, and the upfront paying of grad school. Those commenting about how it shouldn't matter the color of the teacher are people that are white that had people that reflected what they saw every day. I never had a teacher that looked like me either - but I had successful parents to push me. Not all children have that. Children need to see that it is possible for them to achieve the American Dream as well and that it's not just shows on television. So, again for those misguided commentators, your comments put you in the position of "you just don't get it" and rather than make stupid comments should just say that they "just don't get it" and let someone educate you! Elton came here to make a difference and as his mother, I am so very proud of the teacher that he is becoming!


[thumbup], sfhaydel!


As a minority teacher in FCPS, thank you!


How will we every beat racism and discrimination when we continue to put people into groups?


that is what this type prefer. it's a sad commentary. they seem to prefer ignorance and thinking reminiscent of the old divided frederick.


We teach people racism is wrong through racist (or sexist) hiring practices. Welcome to the logic of the modern Democrat Party.


One should exercise caution when the BOE/FCPS and other governmental/political entities attempt to classify individuals on the basis of their "racial" or "ethnic" characteristics. The first question to ask is what methodology they use to objectively pigeonhole individuals standing in front of them into "racial" or "ethnic" characteristics? They won't tell you because any objective standard will inevitably fall into one or more of the methods used by Nazi Germany, the Southern & Border states of the United States during the Jim Crow era and apartheid South Africa.


I'm sorry, I want to add one more thing. I doubt that there is a school system in the country who has the number of minority teachers they would like to have. There is a shortage of teachers, period, and minority teachers in particular.


There is no shortage of teacher candidates (there is a surplus) in this part of the world.


The pool of minority candidates is very low. Having been on many recruiting trips in the past, my observations were (1) there were few candidates (2) systems that offered upwards of $6K to get one to sign would scoop them right up. And in defense of FCPS, never have I observed a hiring of a teacher because he/she was a minority. The ability to effectively teach students is #1 priority.


So we pay a bounty to get minority teachers to apply. Hopefully in a subject that benefits ALL students. How does that affect the moral of all other teachers that didn't get a "hiring bonus"? You do not lower the standards to fulfill a "quota". That harms all students. What's the answer? Depends on what the minority is. Black teachers to make black students feel happy? Hispanic to pacify the dreamers? Back in the 60-70s we actually enjoyed going to school. We didn't care if our teacher was white black or yellow. We concentrated on the person. Now days it seems that learning isn't nearly as important as it was and what matters is to have a "minority" instructor. Again why? Hire the best qualified for the money. For our future.


Here we go with this diversity stuff again. There's not too much concern from any civil group for some of the schools in Baltimore County that's very close to Baltimore City where white students who are at or near minority level could even be "allowed" to complain and be heard that they don't have a whole lot of teachers that look like them. I know, I've been in some of those schools and it's easy for anyone to know which ones because they all have the "A" diversity rating on their websites.


thats about all this paper can relate to, that and lets hate our president




the hatred is warranted. he is a buffoon.


"Hatred is warranted"? What a sick person. Head back to the loony bin, your crazy.


head back to the stone age. you are a fossil.


Let's just lower the standards and requirements so we can find more minority teachers.


Yea, then maybe you could be a Frederick County teacher.


Good one, Phy!!!


No one twisted your arm to teach here! Personal responsibility.


I’ll be damned if my tax dollars are used to hire teachers because of their color instead of their ability to teach. This liberal rot needs to be expelled from the classroom.


kstr, I think the idea is not "liberal rot," but rather, the idea is to attract good teachers who also happen to be minorities.


ideas are repellent to 92. same ole, same ole seems just fine with him.


You Bet!

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