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City People

Teaching unites family

The three Colemans - father, mother and son - all teach at Plant High School and they share a home in Palma Ceia.

By REBECCA RICHARDS
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 7, 2003


PALMA CEIA -- Being a family is special in itself.

But the Colemans of South Tampa share a distinction like none other in Hillsborough County.

Steve, Linda and their 26-year-old son, Mark, all teach at Plant High School. No other local public school boasts a father-mother-son teaching trio, a district spokeswoman says.

Mark teaches accounting and computer skills; Linda, math. Steve instructs a work-placement program.

"We're happy to have all three of them," says Plant's principal, Eric Bergholm.

Mark Coleman, a 1994 Plant graduate with a degree from Florida State University, started off as a computer programmer but was laid off after three years, giving him time to rethink his career.

"I was tired of sitting in a cubicle eight hours a day," he says.

He decided to get a master's degree at the University of South Florida and try teaching. His parents, after all, were longtime educators, and he liked the idea of having summers off to travel.

His mother recalls his conversion.

"He told me that at first, he was motivated by money," Linda Coleman says. "But he said he wanted to make a difference. I said, 'Are you trying to tell me you want to be a teacher?' "

She knew how much time and dedication it would take if he wanted to be good.

* * *

Linda Coleman, 57, is the veteran educator of the family. She started at Plant as a math teacher in 1968. She was the first to teach calculus in Hillsborough schools and the first girls' track and cross-country coach.

She stayed until 1979, when her husband was assigned to Plant. In those days, spouses couldn't teach at the same school, a rule later amended. She moved to Coleman Middle School, then to Ben T. Hill Middle School. She was an assistant principal there, but her heart was in teaching.

She returned to Plant in 1999, reclaiming her old classroom, Room 136.

It's been a shrine to patriotism since Sept. 11. A stained glass "U.S.A" hangs across the windows. Red, white and blue teddy bears sit on her desk. Pictures of seniors adorn patriotic stars on a bulletin board. And a Statue of Liberty poster hangs on a door in the back of the classroom.

"I want one room for the kids to remember we're still at war," she says.

Outside, there's a new gym. Portable classrooms have come and gone.

Each year, faces change and so, over time, has teaching.

"When I first started, I taught mathematics. Now I teach kids," she says. "Then, I immediately got respect. Now, I have to really earn it."

She knows it's important to understand what matters in the lives of teenagers. Over the years, she and her husband have attended countless football games, plays and other events to stay connected to their students.

"When our generation retires, I worry there is just not that dedicated core there is now," she says. "More people see this as a job, not as a passion."

Steve Coleman's view on the matter is simple:

"As soon as you treat it as a job, it becomes a job."

* * *

The two met at a beach dance, right out of high school in Michigan. He was headed into the Army, to become a radio operator in Vietnam.

"I saw her and we danced, and the rest is history," he says.

Anxious to be wed -- with Steve Coleman's military duty looming -- they took their vows in a Piggly-Wiggly grocery store.

"I called the justice of the peace who was a store manager and had a little place in the back of the store to marry people," Steve Coleman says. "He got two eyewitnesses off the street."

"We hope it's legal, huh?" Linda jokes.

They are best friends, they say. Her easy laugh and his quick recall of dates and places flow through their banter like a bubbling spring.

Steve, 59, studied education at the University of Tampa and interned as a physical education teacher at Plant in 1971. His first job was at Mann Junior High, where he coached the school district's first junior high championship team in football.

Recruited to coach basketball at Plant, he coached and taught physical education for 12 years.

"My body started giving out and it's out now," he quips.

He's one of two DCT teachers -- Diversified Cooperative Training. His students learn job skills and earn credit for working.

His room, 204, is catty-corner from his son's, 205.

The three Colemans don't see each other much during the day, but they share a home on Palmira Avenue in Palma Ceia. They love their neighborhood, which they've seen evolve from a place for retirees to one for young families.

"In another 15 years, the schools are going to be bursting," Linda Coleman says.

She hopes her son stays on the front lines.

For now, that's his plan.

"He's good at what he does," she says. "The profession can't afford to lose people good in their fields."

Steve, Linda and Mark Coleman

  • OCCUPATIONS: Plant High teachers
  • FAMILY MOTTO: Proud to be an American
  • FAMILY RESOLUTION FOR 2003: Don't sweat the small stuff
  • STEVE'S ROLE: Peacemaker
  • LINDA'S ROLE: Organizer
  • MARK'S ROLE: Gourmet chef
  • PETS: Skyler, a greyhound-golden retriever mix; Mickey, a cat
  • HOME AWAY FROM HOME: A 38-foot American Dream RV
  • FAVORITE RETREAT: Alaska

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