There is nothing like a bit of passion in teaching. Children love it when teachers burst with energy, creative skill and dogged determination that they should do their best. Hong Kong hopefully has many such teachers. But today it has one less because Pamela Young, one of the most infamous 'teacher activists', last night flew off to a new job in sunny Spain. Certain principals and bureaucrats will be sighing with relief because Ms Young did not leave her passion at the classroom door. If there was any wrong she thought needed righting, whether it be at department, school or system level, she let her views be known - and right to the top. Students, she believed, deserved nothing less. She won her infamy among the native English speaking teacher community for being the one who publicly sought to alert education minister Arthur Li Kwok-cheung that schools could spend a little less money on pomp and ceremony, and more on soap and toilet paper. This was in the pre-Sars days when many school lavatories were not equipped with such basics and her principal sincerely believed that soap was a hazard to teenagers because they could slip on it. Her advice did not go down well with that principal or, no doubt, at EMB headquarters. As an employee low down in the hierarchy of a government school, she had spoken out of turn. The door out of the NET scheme beckoned soon after. But this wasn't a conflict between east and west. Ms Young had western principals quaking in their shoes too when she expressed dismay at goings on in their schools. Schools are traditionally defensive institutions that do not readily welcome critical comment. There is a lot of self-congratulation and show to cover up the realities of their imperfections, or the fact that they are precariously keeping the lid on a host of teenage problems, from drug abuse to suicidal stress and depression. And within many schools, staff meetings are often dominated by one voice - the principal's - rather than lively dialogue between colleagues. Ms Young loved working with true professionals and had dynamic relationships with them. Her problem was that she didn't suffer less. Many a principal would prefer the dull conformist to the talented maverick. But schools would be dull places if they didn't have their fair share of big personalities to inspire children and other teachers. And if they have as much to contribute to students' learning as Ms Young they should be welcomed. We need a climate where teachers shouldn't feel cowed. And the more collegiality there is in a school, the less they would need to speak up outside - apart from to advertise what's good.