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A petition for change: Fort Myers teacher says state certification rules are pushing educators out the door

Teacher Certification
Posted at 4:44 PM, Apr 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-26 18:42:41-04

FORT MYERS, Fla. — On Tuesday, Samantha Zukowski, a chemistry teacher in Fort Myers was working to get the attention of the state, telling us the process for teacher certification in the state of Florida is forcing educators out the door.

It's an issue our investigative team has brought directly to governor Ron DeSantis in the past, asking if too much emphasis is being put on the test for teacher certification.

Zukowski told me that's why she has started a petition
to ask Governor Desantis to change the requirements for teachers to remain certified.

"We are really going to put some stitches in this bleed out we are having of teachers," said Zukowski.

Those stitches are made up of signatures on a petition that will be sent to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

Zukowski said the reason for this operation, is because of the process teachers must follow to remain certified in the state of Florida.

“It's almost impossible,” said Zukowski.

In the state of Florida, Zukowski told me teachers with bachelor's degrees have three years from the time they start teaching to earn their professional teaching certificate.

A deadline that Zukowski’s petition is asking governor DeSantis to extend.

“If you are doing all the things that we (teachers) already have checks for in place, let's give them an extension as long as they are working at it and chipping away at it, let's keep them in the classroom,” said Zukowski.

Those in charge of placing teachers inside the classroom like Suzette Rivera, the Assistant Director for Recruitment for Lee County School District said if teachers don't earn their professional certificate, the state says they have to be let go.

“We do end up having to sever some relationships due to non-compliance of that but we have not seen an increase this year,” said Rivera.

Rivera said teachers can either earn their master's degree or enroll in certification programs like Alternative Lee, which is free for current Lee County teachers.

Easier said than done for teachers like Samantha Zukowski who said she wants governor DeSantis to know the difficulty of teaching full time and earning those extra certificates.

“I found that having to work two jobs for supplemental income plus my own two kids, it is several papers a is around anywhere from six to nine in masters credits levels of work, during the school year,” said Zukowski.

It's a full plate of requirements that the Lee County School District understands has only gotten heavier for teachers since the pandemic.

“There have been some challenges added on to teachers because of the pandemic to pursuing their professional certificate and we try to work with teachers on an individual basis,” said Rivera.

Zukowski said it's forcing teachers to leave their classrooms after a short period of time which is destroying student relationships with their teachers.

“You want to have the chemistry teacher your older sister had, six years ago you want to have that investment in the school system and the kids don't feel it and they show it,” said Zukowski.

On Tuesday, Zukowski had over 50 signatures in support of her request.