Speak for Yourself

Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!

Advice for teachers: Look after your voice

shouting-teacherIf you were a professional violinist would you start each day by giving the instrument a good whack? Would you leave it out in the sun,  use it when you couldn’t find a cricket bat or just never tune it? Of course you wouldn’t.

Yet  teachers as  a group treat their main tool of trade to just such stress every single day.  Whenever you talk loudly, over background noise, across large distances like the playground, the sports field, swimming pool or assembly hall,  you risk vocal damage.

I’m not messing round here. According to Sydney based speech therapist Cecelia Pemberton:

In Australia and throughout the world, research shows that up to 20% of  teachers experience voice problems each year.  Teachers are between  three and five times more likely to experience voice problems than the  general population and are a staggeringly 32 times more likely to report  voice problems than the general population…

The incidence of problems in music teachers, physical education teachers, language teachers and preschool and primary school teachers  [is higher]…there is a high incidence of voice  problems in teachers early in their career (1-5 years) … another increase after 15 years of teaching…Many teachers tolerate voice problems and do not seek help, this may exacerbate the voice problem.

So how do you know when you need help? The National Union of Teachers in the UK says “Prolonged and recurring hoarseness in the absence of a cold or throat infection and a persistent change in pitch or quality of voice should be investigated”. 

Pemberton says there is good evidence that preventative measures and education in voice care make a difference.  The Victorian Department of Education recognises voice care as an OH&S issue, and in the UK there are some schools introducing microphones to save  teachers’ voices.

What should you do?

First of all, make any adjustments to the acoustic properties of your environment which are possible.   Find another room if there is a racket next door. Close the doors and windows  if there is traffic outside – and so on.

The basic rules for  protecting yourself are NOT to

  • talk or sing loudly
  • clear your throat
  • yell or shout
  • teach with a throat infection
  • use tension at the start of utterances
  • speak over large distances or in noisy situations without a good amplifier.

Not easy I know.

Here are the things you should do:

  • Drink water. Hydration is very important for a voice in heavy use.
  • Do a daily voice workout before you start. (follow the hotlink to get details). This places your voice correctly and minimises the risk of damage from  speaking, yelling or shouting ‘on the throat’.
  • Use forward resonance when you need to project.
  • Invent work-arounds for managing your class. For instance, instead of calling out, give instructions to a small number of students who then have responsibility for informing the rest of the class.
  • Use non vocal cues (playing a piece of music, handclaps, a whistle, bell or body pose) to signal changes in activities or the need for students to quieten down.
  • Use an amplifier where possible and develop  good microphone technique.
  • Don’t clear your throat. Instead swallow hard, yawn, take a sip of water, suck or chew a sweet .
  • If you have a sore throat or respiratory infection, avoid using a husky breathy voice.  Just wait till it’s better. That’s what sick leave is for.

Related Articles

How a Teacher’s Voice Affects Pupils’ Behaviour

Special Care for Voice Users (American Academy of Otolaryngology)

The Voice AcademyA no-cost, self-directed, virtual school built for the vocal health of U.S. teachers.

Why You Lose Your Voice With Laryngitis (everydayhealth.com)


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This entry was posted on 06/02/2013 by in Common Speaking situations, Public speaking, Voice production and tagged , , .

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