Crossing boundaries

1st February 2013 at 00:00

Last week I had a run-in with my neighbour. Since my husband started working away from home, the bloke next door has been performing unasked-for neighbourly acts such as trimming communal hedges or lopping off overhanging boughs. I try to keep out of his way because he looks like creepy Mr Harvey from The Lovely Bones. But last week I had no option. When I returned from school, he was standing in my garden, chopping down an ancient hedge that separates our properties.

Despite the fact that he was armed with a massive chainsaw and I had only a teacher's umbrella, I tapped him on the shoulder. He adjusted his yellow plastic earmuffs. "What are you doing, Frank?" I mouthed over the roar of the chainsaw. He abandoned his game of arboreal Jenga and pointed at the remains of my hawthorn. "I'm just tidying up," he chirped.

Now, had my husband been home he would have lamped him for trespass, but being a teacher my weaponry is words. I took a deep breath and unleashed the full wrath of my literary allusions: "Good fences make good neighbours, Frank," I warned. He looked at me nonplussed; the two Big Macs covering his ears probably hadn't helped. I shouldn't have been surprised. If Auden's poetry failed to "save one Jew from Auschwitz" then quoting Robert Frost was unlikely to save my old bush. I mulled over my options. I could pelt him with more aphorisms, or wait for my husband to come home. Thanks to the arrival of the latter, my garden is now a Frank-free zone.

Respect for other people's boundaries is essential. I learned this the hard way. When I was a kid, I had to share a three-quarters bed with my big sister. Every night she drew an imaginary line down the middle that she painstakingly patrolled, responding to any accidental breach with a sharp kick to my shins. After a while, we slept soundly side by side, safe in our separate halves but comforted by the warmth of each other. Perhaps this is a paradigm for how we all should live.

In schools we're generally better at respecting boundaries than most. But occasionally we transgress. We spill on to each other's workstations or "borrow" each other's rooms, moving desks and leaving mess. These thoughtless actions add to the stress of the job. Discovering that someone has abused your glue sticks is like going to the family bathroom and finding your toothbrush is already wet.

But the bitterest battles in my school are fought over the fenceless lands. The library, for instance, causes more territorial disputes than the Gaza Strip. We all want to be there. It's warm, it has computers and the librarian has all the gossip. In short, it has everything the average teacher needs. But the PE department always win this turf war. Having no classrooms of their own, they are widely regarded as the educational diaspora. The library is their Zion and - during winter - they occupy it for months at a time.

This drives the rest of us wild. The library has always been regarded as legitimate respite care. It's a Get Out of Teaching Free card that we cash in when we're stressed. You can let the children run riot there while you drink tea with the librarian and bitch about the boss. But since the tracksuit brigade spread their towels on the floor, the rest of us are stuck in our classrooms. Perhaps if I borrow Frank's chainsaw I might persuade them to go back out into the rain.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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