By STEVE LEVINE
Venise Grossmann likes to practice what she preaches - and as a 16-year classroom teacher she has experience at both.
Grossmann, named West Deptford school district's Teacher of the Year for 2002-03, said she works vehemently to fight bullying at West Deptford High School and woe betide the student she catches hassling another.
"I'll walk down the hall and hear, for example, `You're a slut, you're a skank,' " she said. "Some teachers say kids will be kids. If I hear it, I'm going to stop and address it."
Grossmann said her loathing for bullies began when she was a freshman at Highland High School where she was confronted and later assaulted simply because an older, bigger girl didn't like her looks.
"When she swung, I saw the rings on her fingers, and I knew that it was going to hurt," she wrote in an op-ed piece published last year in the Courier-Post and other newspapers. "I wish I could say the agony I felt ended with that punch, but the verbal abuse lasted all freshman year."
In an interview last week, Grossmann said she eventually transferred to Triton High School, a sister school within the Black Horse Pike Regional School District, but still carries the feeling of being bullied to this day.
Upon being nominated for Teacher of the Year, Grossmann included a lengthy essay in her application about bullying and how she seeks to stamp it out in her school.
A graduate of Glassboro State College, Grossmann holds a masters degree in English from Rutgers University and studied graphic design, photography and video technology at Camden County College.
She teaches English and journalism and is West Deptford High School's student newspaper adviser. Grossmann also co-produced a promotional video for RiverWinds that the township uses to market its riverfront recreation complex and has produced many Web sites.
An avid traveler, she has spent several summers in Africa as well as South America and Europe.
Grossmann said she helps finance her passion for travel with a part-time job as a waitress, but her first love will always be teaching.
"You're constantly learning," she said. "If you love your subject matter, you're sharing your love with your students."
Sophomore Jackie Waxman, a former journalism student of Grossmann's who still writes for the school newspaper, said Grossmann's lessons were never just academic.
"She makes you get used to deadlines," said Waxman, 16. "She gives you something and says, `Here, write this, it's due tomorrow.' "
Another former student, junior Kate Dunn, said everyone in class read Grossmann's op-ed piece about bullying and knew she is serious about not bullying one another.
"Oh my God," said Dunn, 16. "She really is."
Reach Steve Levine at (856) 845-6520 or firstname.lastname@example.org