Treppenwitz is a German word for a witty comeback you thought of too late, literally a staircase joke. It is a translation from the French "l'esprit d'escalier," the idea being that one may only think of a proper rejoinder after one has gone down the stairs and completely left the scene. In my case, the joke only appeared to me as I reached the bottom of the stairs.
This is the week when most kids are heading back to school and parents are posting cute pictures of their smiling kids in the new clothes. On Monday I watched my next door neighbor Emma holding a sign that read "Second Grade 8-29-16" as her mother took her picture. Then she posted it on Facebook next to last year's picture where she was about 2 inches shorter.
I enjoy seeing all these kids heading back to school. When I said that online, a former student said, "You miss it." To which I replied, "Only the smiles." Then I explained the two things I like best about being retired. One, that I don't have to get up and get myself ready and out the door shortly after 6AM. In the winter that frequently meant feeling like a mole as I went to school in the dark and came home in the dark. Now I get to see sunlight at all hours of the day.
But even more than enjoying daylight, I appreciate the absence of the never-ending pile of papers to correct. And my piles did get quite high. Being the procrastinator that I am, Tuesday's assignments got piled on top of Monday's assignments, and sometimes papers from the week before. My book bag was always full to bulging. No wonder I was a regular patient of the chiropractor. I felt bad about this, guilty that I wasn't getting my students' papers back to them as soon as I could.
Then one day as I packed up by bag to go home, I realized that at that exact moment I was caught up. I didn't have one paper that needed to be corrected, not one term paper waiting to be edited, not one set of quizzes that needed grades. I was a happy woman. I could have left my book bag right there in the English office, but I liked the feel of this empty bag on my shoulder.
I opened the door to the stairwell and began descending the familiar steps to the door that led to the parking lot. I began to think of how I had arrived at this pleasant place, and with each step down the stairwell, I became more and more convinced of the answer--I wasn't giving my students enough work. I was not the effective teacher who had completed all her work efficiently. I was the teacher who was short-changing her students by giving them so little work that I could finish it quickly.
By the time I reached the bottom of the stairs, I was laughing out loud. I just couldn't give myself a break. The treppenwitz was on me.