"You have to have the respect of your students," said Savio Fok Kin-keung, 73, who worked for more than 30 years at the Aberdeen Technical School in Wong Chuk Hang. But for some former pupils, Fok wasn't just their physics teacher: he was their mentor and inspiration.
Fok has been nominated for the self-sacrifice to achieve greater good category of the Spirit of Hong Kong Awards 2014 by the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union. After retiring 13 years ago, Fok has remained keenly involved in the institution. The current principal, Fok's former pupil Peter Yu Lap-fun, said Fok had that innate ability to not only get the subject across but also build his pupils into young citizens ready to help others.
"When we were students we loved Mr Fok," Yu recalled. "He taught physics in an amusing and effective way. Many graduates enjoy coming back to see him again. Always, when we had difficulties at school, we would go and discuss them with Mr Fok."
Fok recalled a pupil in his class named Lee Ho-wai, who was hearing-impaired. As often happens with children, his classmates tended to be cruel towards him. "His classmates didn't respect him, so he had very low self-esteem," Fok recalled. So, during one lesson Fok lowered the volume on the microphone that he used in class to almost mute while he spoke. At the end of the session, he asked the pupils which of them had understood what he had said. Ho-wai was the only one to raise his hand.
After that, Fok said, the students had a better understanding of the obstacles their classmate faced and became more willing to help him. Ho-wai, he says, also recovered his self-esteem and remained in contact with Fok for years.
Fok also cited the example of a pupil called Chow Chung-chiu, who went to live in Mexico, where he married. Recently, Chow was back for a visit and reminded Fok of an incident 30 years ago, when as a pupil he stole HK$100 from a schoolmate.
"In those days, HK$100 was not a small amount," Fok said. "I punished him for stealing by giving him demerits and allowed him to remain at the school and continue his education. I gave him HK$100 to give back to the other student."
Fok said Chow had never forgotten the incident, and the relief of being able to stay on at the school. He recently visited him at an open evening at the school. Chow handed Fok HK$2,000 to be used for other students who also needed help.
A lively, wiry man of 73, Fok continues to volunteer at the school and has also set up an education fund. It's not difficult to see how he would have inspired the boys in his class, though he admits some were harder to control than others.
Fok recalled how one day a number of boys were being disruptive, so he decided to take them out of the classroom and to a nearby bridge for a demonstration of how sound moves through solid material and air. Fok mimed how he used a bar to bang one end of the bridge and all the boys lay their heads down on the bridge at the other end to hear the sound come through.
He laughed as he recounted how he didn't realise the bridge was above a police station and an irate officer came out and shouted at him to stop damaging the bridge.