It’s nearly the end of the first quarter at school.

“Miss! I gave you that paper!”

“Yes, you did. Yesterday. Late. It’s in The Pile.”

The Late Pile is the pile of papers asking for forgiveness because students don’t want bad grades engraved on their transcript. It’s the pile of, “Sure, I’ll read it, but please know I know your excuse was complete BS.” It’s in that pile.

I had a college friend who’d use theatre makeup to get out of exams. I wondered if the professors knew she didn’t have the flu every single December and May. One of my graduate mentors counted dead relatives in his little moleskin notebook. “It’s a tragedy your sixth grandmother has just passed. I hope you’re doing as well as can be expected.”

Every high school educator knows there are only two times a student cares about grades, progress report time and end of quarter. Progress reports are an ancient system of printing out grades mid-quarter and mailing them home to advise parents how their students are doing.

Most kids rush home, pull the well-marked school envelope from the mail, and make sure it hits the shredder or garbage can before it ever gets into an adult’s hands. If you’re a taxpayer  who calculates the cost of even one single mass mailing you must surely appreciate the speed with which a high school kid can operate–this is the efficiency of your future workforce.

The second time students care about grades is report card time. “Quarters” close off the grading term, sealing the grades on transcripts in blood. Schools then print report cards, killing countless additional trees in the name of questionable scholarship, and send them home once again in the hands of students or via US Post.

Nobody wants bad grades on report cards and progress reports, even if they are destined for the shredder, so there is always a push to to earn my forgiveness for before these academic dates occur.

“Miss, what did I miss (two weeks ago)?” Kid, I don’t remember what I had for breakfast today except I’m certain there was way too much coffee involved.

If it were up to me, printed grade reports would be abolished unless we could somehow disguise them in Publisher’s Clearing House victory envelopes so they’d make it through the front doors of America.

Even then, I wish we’d relegate such things to the school graveyard, where all the fountain pens and inkwell desks lie. I don’t get the point of taking a snapshot of grades, which are works in progress, and freeze-framing them for parents when many schools have a cloud-based systems every interested party in the world can see constantly. Parents and students can look up grades on their phones at many schools. Mailing papers is really expensive and entirely unnecessary. Half the time the grade has changed in the week it took for the mailing to get home.

Maybe I’m oversensitive to recycling, being a somewhat freakish person who packs waste-free lunches in tiffin boxes and feels personally guilty for supplying paper coffee cups to guests of my school Keurig station, but I digress. I hate waste in all forms.

“Miss, what’s my grade?” I tell them to look it up online.

Grades are a lot like Weight Watchers–it’s easy to get obsessed with the scale. I step on, I’m 115. I step off. I step on again, 116. I step off. I step on again, 114… what does it matter if I’m balanced and eating healthy? Grades are the same. Nothing’s going to change if habits remain bad.

The numbers are silly. I can’t look a kid dead straight in the eye and say, “You look like an 86 to me.” I never once walked into a real-world situation and had someone tell me, “I liked the packet you prepared for the arbitration you won. It was a 94%.”

Grades always seemed a little contrived and silly to me, but mailing them out–that’s just expensive. I lived through The Great Recession. Every time I can save a dollar, I do.

I look at my Quarter End Desk. It’s horrific. Only kerosene and a bonfire could cure the situation, but I’m going to try and save myself and a bunch of students with the power of my purple pen. Someone told me in teacher school not to use a red pen because it will ruin my students’ self-esteem. I don’t want to do that, their standardized test scores do a good enough job without my red ink.

So, I sit, I grade. I plug grades in, knowing that in one week the first report card of the season will be arriving home, just in time for kids to make their way-too-early Christmas lists, so it’s got to have good grades.

I’m rooting for my students, I really am. My goal is to flunk zero students. That’s what I say anyway. My real goal–to see my desk once again…without lighting a bonfire.