The Curious Case of the Maria Gonzalez Portfolio

In higher education on average only 25% of incoming Freshmen graduate.  It’s called retention in education terms. And it’s a fact across the United States, not just Miami.

There are a thousand reasons why Freshmen don’t graduate.

Usually life gets in the way. But sometimes the school or a bad teacher is the culprit.

Take the curious incident of the Maria Gonzalez portfolio.

Last day of Summer “B’ — the professor opens the office door and on the floor lays a portfolio. Hmm. A student (or someone) must have slid it underneath. Okay. It’s way late work, grades are due and the professor is exhausted from assessing a thousand pages in two days. Maria Gonzalez.  Why does that name sound familiar?

The professor looks at the portfolio. There’s no student ID or class identification but all the assignments are complete. Hmm. That name sounds familiar. Professor looks at the grade rosters. Out of four classes (an insane workload for a mini-term) the professor randomly taught three Maria Gonzalez’s that term and in a really weird coincidence all three were scheduled to fail.

All three stopped attending.

How Not To Suck as a Teacher

Many, many professors would have either withdrawn all the Maria Gonzalez’s from the classes for non-attendance. Or, failed them for “missing too many classes.” Or, not accepted the late materials, especially since grades are due.

It’s understandable.

Professors create their own rules. They earned the right. But why make it more difficult for students? Is it not a teacher’s role to help? Especially in Miami when most students are first or second generation immigrants who work and attend school. Many have jobs and are caretakers. Help students. If you can help, help.

Like Maria Gonzalez.

How do you solve this problem?

Fail all of them? Or, find the one who completed the work and issue them the grade they deserve for the work completed, albeit late?

The answer should be the latter.

Higher Education = Higher Road

The Maria Gonzalez portfolio case was easy to solve. The professor had to contact the student and ask them to authenticate the work. E-mail could work but this case was time sensitive since grades were due.  Professor contacted Maria Gonzalez # 1 who did not answer.

Professor contacted Maria Gonzalez # 2 who did answer.

“Did you slide materials under my office door?”


Hmm, anyone could say yes.  

“Can you tell me what your final paper was about? Like, the topic?”

“The Final paper? Um, er,” stammered Maria. “Sorry, I’m at work.”

“Yeah, like the topic? Of the research paper?”

“It was about physician assistants.”

Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner . . . 

“Awesome. Okay, just making sure. I’m sure there’s a legitimate reason for missing classes, but I possess all the work.”

“Yes, remember, I sent you an email weeks ago, about being in the hospital, with the baby. I would totally understand if you don’t accept the work or fail me –”

“No, no, it’s fine. I just had three students named Maria Gonzalez and needed to make sure you were the right student. I remember the e-mail now. But I did forget. Super busy. But we’re good. You’re fine.”

This case worked itself out fairly easily.

It could have been more difficult but not by much.

It’s not that hard to care.

editor’s note –student’s name was changed for anonymity 

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J.J. Colagrande

Has written about Miami culture for almost twenty years, first with The Miami Herald, then Miami New Times and Huffington Post. He's the publisher of The Jitney and a full-time professor.