Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Standards of Behavior


It is difficult to overestimate the close scrutiny that students give to everything they think they perceive about an instructor, and you may be surprised by their eagerness to respect and admire you. “Teaching by example” has many meanings, but one of them is that a student can learn as much from what a teacher does as from what a teacher says.

Preparation and Accountability

All graduate teachers are expected to attend all scheduled meetings of their classes and to be available for consultations with students, course instructors, or departmental officers during the entire term as it is set forth in the Yale College calendar, including the Reading Period and the Final Examination Period.

If you’re unable to meet a class either because of illness or an emergency, you should contact the course instructor and, if necessary, your department. Drink plenty of fluids.

Just as teachers have every right to expect that their students will arrive for class on time and prepared, so, too, do students have the same right to expect their teachers to come to each and every class on time and to be fully conversant with the materials. Tardiness shows a basic lack of respect for your students, in addition to setting a bad example. While most TFs err on the side of being over-prepared for class, there are occasions in which TFs—especially stressed-out TFs—are tempted to extemporize a class rather than take the time to prepare for it. This, like most temptations, is best avoided.

When it comes to grading, a teacher must be scrupulously and professionally impartial, judging students based solely on the quality of their work; you must resist the frequent human inclination to be swayed by extraneous considerations, even strong or emotionally compelling ones. 

Above all, maintain a professional relationship at all times. A “professional relationship” between a teacher (particularly a graduate student, who is often only a few years older than the undergraduates) and student is always a complicated phenomenon, and it can present special problems to the novice teacher simply because those problems are new. You’ll recall from your own experiences as a student that undergraduates are unusually impressionable, almost always sensitive, and often capable of misinterpreting the implications of what a teacher says or does.

On a simple level, this means that your curt comments in the margin of a paper may cause (unintended) emotional anguish to the student who perceives them to be your commentary on her as a person. On another level, however, teachers must be aware in their classroom discourse (and in comments made on papers and exams) of the wide diversity of religious, racial, and economic backgrounds of their students. You should also be aware of the broad range of your students’ talents and their personal, intellectual, and vocational expectations.

Reliability and Propriety


Students need and expect predictability in their transactions with their instructors. This doesn’t mean that your teaching can’t be imaginative and resourceful. However, there are certain routine things in any course that a student has a right to depend on: they should always know what they are expected to do in a course and when they are expected to do it. That can’t happen if, for example, you depart substantially from the syllabus, require extra reading without reasonable notice, or assign a paper at the end of the course without warning.

Even some seemingly trivial deviations from the expected, such as altering the announced date of a test or changing the meeting place from the designated room to a local watering hole in response to a “unanimous” decision, can be risky. There is always the chance that some shy or insecure students will be reluctant to object to the majority’s decision to deviate from what had been established. In short, if you are in any doubt about how to carry out the procedural aspects of running a course, stick to the expected and conventional.

Students’ Personal Issues

Through actions or conversation with you, whether inadvertently or intentionally, a student may disclose to you the existence, or possible existence, of a personal problem, sometimes with underlying causes of an emotional or psychological nature. In some cases it may be appropriate and desirable for you to talk with the student. In other cases the student should be referred to the instructor and then, frequently, to some other member of the Yale community who is charged with the counseling of students (often the master or dean of the student’s college).

As a TF, you’ll have to use your discretion to decide whether the problem falls within the scope of your competence. If it doesn’t, or if you’re in doubt, either consult the instructor or refer the student to the appropriate counselor. Obviously, any urgent personal problem should be brought to the attention of the head of college or dean immediately.

You Have Enough Friends

Although it’s probably obvious that favoritism, intimidation, or harassment of any student is a serious violation of professional conduct, you might not realize that “favoritism,” “intimidation,” and “harassment” can take many forms, and that professional standards often proscribe behavior that may appear at first glance to be innocuous.

Without a doubt, you should maintain amicable relations with your students. However, your students can never be your “friends” in the usual sense, and you need to balance the genuine need for amicability with the equally important necessity of avoiding preferential treatment or compromised judgment or (and here’s the kicker) even the appearance of such behavior.

With luck, you already have friends who aren’t undergraduates, so you don’t need your students to be your friends (or more than friends). Don’t date a student currently in your class. If a friend, former date, or anyone else with whom you have a personal relationship is enrolled in the course, confer with the instructor to determine whether you should grade that student’s work. Furthermore, you should never give (or appear to give) unusual personal attention to any student, or be particularly familiar with any student, during class or at other times.

Remember that the mere perception of favoritism or extra attention can be unwelcome and dangerous. Sexual harassment can involve overt action, a threat, or a reprisal, but it can also be subtle and indirect, with a coerciveness that is unstated. In other instances, behavior may be inadvertently inappropriate or coercive, or it may result from a lack of awareness or from a misunderstanding. This is made explicit in the University definition of sexual harassment. In addition, TFs must comply with the University policy on teacher-student consensual relations.

The University’s Definitions of Sexual Misconduct, Consent, and Harassment

Definition of Sexual Misconduct

“Yale University is committed to maintaining and strengthening educational, working, and living environments founded on mutual respect in which students, faculty, and staff are connected by strong bonds of intellectual dependence and trust. Sexual misconduct is antithetical to the standards and ideals of our community. Therefore, Yale University prohibits all forms of sexual misconduct. Yale aims to eradicate sexual misconduct through education, training, clear definitions and policies, and serious consequences for policy violations. The University Title IX Coordinator has responsibility for ensuring compliance with Yale’s policies regarding sexual misconduct. The University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct (UWC) and the University and Deputy Title IX coordinators address allegations of sexual misconduct.
These policies apply to all members of the Yale community as well as to conduct by third parties (i.e., individuals who are not students, faculty, or staff, including but not limited to guests and consultants) directed toward University students, faculty, or staff members. Conduct that occurs in the process of application for admission to a program or selection for employment is covered by these policies. These policies also apply to conduct that occurs in Yale-related off-campus activities. 
Many forms of sexual misconduct are prohibited by federal law, including Title IX of the education amendments of 1972, and by Connecticut statutes, and could result in criminal prosecution or civil liability.”

Sexual misconduct incorporates a range of behaviors including sexual assault, sexual harassment, intimate partner violence, stalking, voyeurism, and any other conduct of a sexual nature that is nonconsensual or has the purpose or effect of threatening, intimidating, or coercing a person.
Sexual misconduct often includes nonconsensual sexual contact, but this is not a necessary component. For example, threatening speech that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to constitute sexual harassment is sexual misconduct. Making photographs, video, or other visual or auditory recordings of a sexual nature of another person without their consent constitutes sexual misconduct, even if the activity documented was consensual. Similarly, sharing such recordings or other sexually harassing electronic communications without consent is a form of sexual misconduct. 
Violations of Yale’s Policy on Teacher-Student Consensual Relations and its Policy on Relationships between Staff Members are also forms of sexual misconduct.
Yale’s policies and definitions apply to all members of the Yale community, regardless of their sex or gender.” 

Definition of Sexual Consent

“Under Yale’s policies, sexual activity requires affirmative consent, which is defined as positive, unambiguous, and voluntary agreement to engage in specific sexual activity throughout a sexual encounter. Consent cannot be inferred merely from the absence of a “no.” A clear “yes,” verbal or otherwise, is necessary. Consent to some sexual acts does not constitute consent to others, nor does past consent to a given act constitute present or future consent. Consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual encounter and can be revoked by any participant at any time.
Consent cannot be obtained by threat, coercion, or force. Agreement under such circumstances does not constitute consent. Consent cannot be obtained from someone who is asleep or otherwise mentally or physically incapacitated due to alcohol, drugs, or some other condition. A person is mentally or physically incapacitated when that person lacks the ability to make or act on considered decisions to engage in sexual activity. Engaging in sexual activity with a person whom you know—or reasonably should know—to be incapacitated constitutes sexual misconduct.”

Definition of Sexual Harassment

“Sexual harassment consists of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature on or off campus, when: (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a condition of an individual’s employment or academic standing; or (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for employment decisions or for academic evaluation, grades, or advancement; or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work or academic performance or creating an intimidating or hostile academic or work environment. Sexual harassment may be found in a single episode, as well as in persistent behavior.” 

The University’s Policy on Teacher-Student Consensual Relations

“The integrity of the teacher-student relationship is the foundation of the University’s educational mission. This relationship vests considerable trust in the teacher, who, in turn, bears authority and accountability as a mentor, educator, and evaluator. The unequal institutional power inherent in this relationship heightens the vulnerability of the student and the potential for coercion. The pedagogical relationship between teacher and student must be protected from influences or activities that can interfere with learning and personal development.
Whenever a teacher is or in the future might reasonably become responsible for teaching, advising, or directly supervising a student, a sexual or romantic relationship between them is inappropriate and must be avoided. In addition to creating the potential for coercion, any such relationship jeopardizes the integrity of the educational process by creating a conflict of interest and may impair the learning environment for other students. Finally, such situations may expose the University and the teacher to liability for violation of laws against sexual harassment and sex discrimination.
Therefore, teachers must avoid sexual or romantic relationships with students over whom they have or might reasonably expect to have direct pedagogical or supervisory responsibilities, regardless of whether the relationship is consensual. Conversely, teachers must not directly supervise any student with whom they have a sexual or romantic relationship.
Undergraduate students are particularly vulnerable to the unequal institutional power inherent in the teacher-student relationship and the potential for coercion, because of their age and relative lack of maturity. Therefore, no teacher shall have a sexual or romantic relationship with any undergraduate student, regardless of whether the teacher currently exercises or expects to have any pedagogical or supervisory responsibilities over that student.
Teachers or students with questions about this policy are advised to consult with the University Title IX Coordinator, the Title IX Coordinator of their school, the department chair, the appropriate dean, the Provost, or one of their designees. Students or other members of the community may lodge a complaint regarding an alleged violation of this policy with the University Title IX Coordinator, with the Title IX coordinator of their school, or with the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct.
Violations of the above policies by a teacher will normally lead to disciplinary action. For purposes of this policy, “direct supervision” includes the following activities (on or off campus): course teaching, examining, grading, advising for a formal project such as a thesis or research, supervising required research or other academic activities, serving in such a capacity as Director of Undergraduate or Graduate Studies, and recommending in an institutional capacity for admissions, employment, fellowships, or awards.
“Teachers” includes, but is not limited to, all ladder and instructional faculty of the University. “Teachers” also includes graduate and professional students and postdoctoral fellows and associates only when they are serving as part-time acting instructors, teaching fellows or in similar institutional roles, with respect to the students they are currently teaching or supervising. “Students” refers to those enrolled in any and all educational and training programs of the University. Additionally, this policy applies to members of the Yale community who are not teachers as defined above, but have authority over or mentoring relationships with students, including athletic coaches, supervisors of student employees, advisors and directors of student organizations, Residential College Fellows, as well as others who advise, mentor, or evaluate students.”