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The term "contact hour" is often used in teaching professions, but might also apply to health care and other fields. In teaching, contact hours are hours teachers have contact with students. For doctors, nurses and mental health workers, contact hours mean hours spent directly interacting with patients. Other professions might also use the term as it applies to contact with clients or potential clients.
Teaching contact hours include all classroom sessions and might include certain office hours for college professors. Hours spent on lesson plans, in meetings and preparing materials are not included. Contact hours for a therapist would include time spent speaking with clients, but not the time spent reviewing notes or making assessments based on the client sessions.
Why Use Contact Hours
Contact hours, particularly for teachers, are easily classified and tracked, whereas planning time varies by the individual. Paying a salary based on contact hours means the administrators can set an hourly wage that does not reward slow planners or penalize fast ones. The contact hour method of payment applies to positions in which the direct contact with students or clients is the primary job focus. Pay is traditionally high enough to compensate for the "unpaid" planning hours required.
Understanding Employment Contracts
If you receive an offer for employment that includes a salary per contact hour, look for a contract clause that clearly defines the phrase for your individual situation. For example, if you are a new adjunct professor, find out if it includes open office hours or classroom sessions only. If the terms are not clearly defined, ask the employer to define them for you in writing, just to make sure you both understand the terms the same way.
Employees salaried by contact hour are expected to put adequate time into preparations. Most teachers work more than eight-hour days, even if the contact hours require only six to seven hours per day. When you determine whether you want to accept a job offer, multiply your salary per contact hour by the number of contact hours expected of you per day, and then divide that result by the number of hours you realistically expect to put into the job, including contact and non-contact work. If you are not satisfied with the resulting hourly wage, consider a different job or negotiating a higher rate.