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Cape Coral teacher battling cancer says state certification requirements could end her career

Victoria Woods
Posted at 5:14 PM, May 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-18 10:54:38-04

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — On Tuesday, the School District of Lee County said they have offered over 140 teaching positions during one of their recent job fairs.

In the state of Florida, every teacher must obtain their professional certification within the first three years of teaching in the state.

Victoria Woods a drama teacher at Mariner Middle School in Cape Coral spoke with me about her battle with cancer and told me she is afraid she will lose her job but it's not because of her diagnosis.

"I love teaching," said Woods.

It's a common emotion shared by her students and a passion she fears will be taken away if she doesn't earn her professional teaching certificate.

“If I don't pass them, then I don't have a job,” said Woods.

The Florida state requirement says teachers with bachelor's degrees must earn their professional certificate within their first three years of teaching in the state.

A hard deadline to meet for Victoria Woods, who in 2017 was diagnosed with Lupus, a disease that causes her immune system to attack her organs and tissues.

“Everything takes me longer, it’s a debilitating disease in and of itself, but I didn't know I was going to get cancer”

A breast cancer diagnosis turned her struggles to complete the course work into what Woods said can feel like an impossible feat.

“This last time, I couldn't even stand. I was trying to get there and my husband was like you can't even stand up. How are you going to take a three-hour test?… I didn't... I missed it and so that was frustrating,“ said Woods.

Frustrated, Woods said, that she may never get to run her cheer club again.

Frustrated that despite being recognized for her excellence in the classroom, she would not be granted an extension.

“I'm in chemo I just had chemo yesterday, I have some really bad days,” said Woods.

Woods said it was while she was battling cancer, working to get back to her students, when she saw our story with Samantha Zukowski.

Zukowski is a South Fort Myers High School teacher who at the time had just started a petition demanding that the state change how teachers are certified.

“Right after we had the first conversation we had a pretty big boom,” said Zukowski.

On Tuesday, Zukowski said the petition is asking the state to allow extensions for teachers who can prove they are actively working towards their certification.

“If we collectively put these things together it's not just like me trying to run a charge, it's a lot of really smart, dedicated educators,” said Zukowski.

Victoria Woods, in the meantime, said she continues to study and has about a month and a half to complete her final two assignments.

A finish line she is unsure she will reach.

“I don't understand these hurdles to stop me from doing what I love to do… I mean make it reasonable,” said Woods.

Samantha Zukowski and Victoria Woods said they plan to bring their story to the next Lee County School Board meeting which will be at 6 PM, May 24.