Department Guidelines for Teaching Assistants

Preserve Records

Please remember to periodically make copies (PAPER) of your grade books. You never know when your computer will crash!

TA Availability

Teaching assistants are expected to be on campus throughout the term, from the week before classes begin until final grades for your course have been submitted. Please discuss any need to be away from campus during the term with the faculty member with whom you are working (even if the trip does not conflict with recitation or office hours). It is your responsibility to arrange for a suitable replacement, and the faculty member in charge of the course must approve the replacement. Regularly scheduled office hours should also be covered. (Math-appointed TAs must email a summary of the arrangements made to Maria Terrell.)

Review Sessions and Free Time Rules

TAs should not feel obliged to hold out-of-class review sessions. Unfortunately, review sessions have sometimes deteriorated into cram sessions and psych-out sessions during which the TA tries to go over sample questions s/he thinks are likely to be on the exam — poor pedagogy at best, cramming at worst. Since many of these courses are graded on a curve, it is important that students feel they have equal access to learning opportunities. If you have office hours within a few days before the exam to answer questions that arise as students review for the exam, that should do it.

If you do plan to offer review sessions, please discuss the matter with the faculty member(s) teaching the course and read the Statement on University Free Time and Prelim Legislation. The rule applies to graduate student TAs also. 

“Free time between 4:25 and 7:30pm: You must obtain an explicit exemption form your college Dean to schedule any activities, including review sessions within the time reserved for undergraduate students’ nonacademic activities.”

Office hours may be held at that time if undergraduate students have access to an equivalent opportunity at another time (for example, by appointment or with another TA teaching the same course). It is important to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the policy. Be sure not to give review sessions under the guise of office hours during the free time period. Review is important and if you want to give a review, please try to do so during a regularly scheduled meeting time — such as section, when all students can attend.

Students with Disabilities

Federal legislation requires colleges and universities to make reasonable accommodations for students with physical, mental, or learning disabilites. Student Disability Services oversees university policy with respect to students with disabilities. Students who seek an accommodation — for example, extra time on an exam — must have a letter from Student Disability Services. We do not make accommodations otherwise.


Please proctor in a thoughtful and professional way. If you need to see some examples of what NOT to do read on. (Reprint of a letter from a student)

It is now 20 minutes after my second MATH XXX prelim finished. Some of my classmates were still working on their prelims 17 minutes ago. I am writing because I am displeased with the exam procedures here at Cornell so far. I am an Engineering freshman in my second semester, and as expected, I am finding my courses challenging and I struggle to keep with the mean. I try not to whine or fuss about grades, because they shouldn't matter in the long run. However, unfairness in exams (basically, where the bulk of my grades come from) bugs me, and this is where I feel that the present system has some problems. As I mentioned above, the proctors did not seem to realize that there were more than several people still working on the exam after time was called. I actually let one of them know, and only then did he call for all papers to be handed in. I still had incomplete questions on my exam, and I could have benefited from an extra couple minutes. It was also disturbing that there were only two proctors for the exam. This was for an exam held in Uris Hall Auditorium, a room that seats 427 people and so there were probably more than half that number taking the prelim! This is a very low ratio for an exam, especially if the proctors are there to keep an eye out for cheating, as well as answer questions and keep track of time. Whenever I looked up, however, the two proctors had their eyes on some other reading material, and only looked up periodically. Also, although I will not, I could actually name more than one person who, after the exam was finished in the rushing mob of people handing in their papers, talked to a friend (or overheard someone talking) about a specific question on the exam, and then quickly stepped to the side, amended something in her answers, and then handed in the paper! This is not my first experience with cheating here at Cornell, but definitely the most obvious! Yet I did not say or do anything, and neither did anyone else. I think I have taken more than enough prelims and finals here so far to make me feel this way. Some of the exams were better than others. CS100M with Professor XXXXX was quite well organized, except for the fact that in more than one instance, there were not enough seats to sit with a gap between each person. However, getting back to the bad experiences, in one of my MATH XXX prelims last semester, held in the massive Kennedy Auditorium, I remember spending the last stressful 10 minutes of the prelim trying to block out the noise of so many of my peers packing up their stuff, handing in their papers and then having the distraction of them having to step over you and several others to leave the tight row of seats. In the last 3 minutes of the exam, people were walking around the auditorium talking to their friends! I think I remember only 3 proctors were at this exam, and one of them had a child to attend to! This is unacceptable. I doubt that my worst experiences with exams (mentioned above) are isolated. I believe this is a real cause for concern at such a distinguished university, and at any tertiary institution for that matter. I am not too sure what will and can be done about this situation, and so I am just writing to inform you of my experiences.