Flying Colors - Success Story

By Elaina Hundley, Membership Coordinator

MSA’s Region II (Delaware, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, The District of Columbia and International) teacher of the year, Bethany Birago, has quite an extensive resume. From serving as the Academy of Health Professions (AHP) Program teacher and Career and Technology Education (CTE) Department Chair at Western School of Technology and Environmental Science (WSTES) in Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) to serving as an instructor with the America Heart Association, she does it all. In addition, she’s an active registered nurse and a national registry paramedic, she works in an outpatient surgery center and volunteers at the local fire department; she works extra hours to stay current on new developments in her fields which also enables her to maintain a relevant perspective in her classroom.

Her path started simply enough. Birago began her undergrad career struggling to choose between becoming a nurse or a teacher. She eventually discovered that if she became an EMT she could begin working with patients much sooner and was hooked. She took coursework toward this end earning her Bachelor’s degree in Emergency Health Services, and soon became a paramedic. In this work, she found her calling, but she had a desire to continue to grow and challenge herself and she still felt a pull to teach.

She began teaching others in the health services profession and at the local high school during the day in 1999 while attending nursing classes on nights and weekends, eventually earning her Master of Science in Nursing in Health Care Systems Management. In 2011, she discovered a position opening at a magnet school, WSTES. The school needed faculty in their Academy of Health Professions, and it was a perfect fit for Birago. The role enabled her to bring together her varied experiences and contribute to WSTES’ Career and Technology Education endeavors.   

The Difference between Teaching Professionals and Teaching High Schoolers


 

Birago admits that adapting to her high school students needs was initially a challenge for her. Students struggled with the medical terminology, they’d often complain that she pushed them too hard. She says of her experience with her high school students, “Kids take longer to learn, it’s hard to adapt lessons to meet everyone where they are or to even understand immediately where students are and what they know, but you can hold all students accountable to certain standards when you are patient with them, provide the proper tools, and make it clear that you believe they can do it.” She also says that when students come back later, after attending college or launching their careers, to express the benefits of what they learned in her courses and through internship experiences, it makes the challenges feel so worth it.

More than any other position (of the many) that Birago has held, she says that teaching high school aged students has taught her to be a quick thinker and nimble problem solver. She employs these problem solving skills when coordinating the internship program in the Academy of Health Professions. Birago actively develops new partnerships and maintains existing partnerships with University of Maryland Medical Center, the Baltimore VA Hospital, and the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, where students have opportunities to put their skills and knowledge to work in internships.

Expanding WSTES’ CTE Offerings and Creating Corresponding Events

Bethany is instrumental in the development, expansion, and maintenance of the AHP internship program at WSTES. The internship experience is a hallmark of each student’s junior year and facilitating this program has become one of Bethany’s favorite parts of her role. In addition to day to day teaching, internship facilitation, and her myriad responsibilities outside the classroom, Birago was most recently promoted to the Career and Technology Education Department Chair. In this role, she supervises nine magnet programs and as a part of these programs, she organizes an annual career fair – she brings over 130 representatives from community police, military, local Maryland colleges, guest speakers and more to campus for this event. When developing students in the career tech program, WSTES faculty seek to train students both in a specific field and in the professional skills necessary to eventually secure a position. Under Birago’s watch, the programs provide interview practice, students learn how to successfully network, and how to conduct themselves with professionalism and integrity in the work place.

Words of Wisdom

Birago’s ability to balance her competing priorities is astounding and commendable, as is her ability to transition from working full time in her field and instructing other professionals to entering the high school classroom. She has some words of advice for other teachers, especially those transitioning from professional fields and into the classroom. She says, “It’s important to adapt to new situations in the classroom to stay in charge of the situation.”

When she first started teaching, it was no walk in the park. Despite her experiences with high risk and high pressure emergency situations in shock trauma as an EMT and paramedic, when she first started, Birago felt like her classroom was out of control. Immediately she knew she had a whole lot to learn about managing students. She says her best advice is to “pick a path and exude confidence until you make it.” She reminds teachers to remember that they are in control and that sometimes managing your class and putting the material together for a new audience takes a combination of practice, a period of discovery, and the ability to be flexible and problem solve in the moment.

Learn more about Western School of Technology here.

Posted June 2017