Voice Care for Teachers is Important!

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Photo of Cassie (Teach Starter)
Updated | 5 min read

Hands up if you’ve lost your voice as a teacher? After a sports carnival, an event rehearsal, playground duty or even just a regular day in class? You’re not alone! Research shows that teachers are three to five times more likely to experience voice problems than the general population, with up to 20% of teachers acutely affected each year (Pemberton, 2008). Despite this, many of us haven’t learnt much about our voice, let alone the importance of voice care for teachers.

Maybe you’ve never really thought about your voice making anatomy. As babies, most of us can learn how to make sounds without explicit teaching so understanding how the human voice works is often left to singers and medical professionals!

Voice care for teachers

However, as teachers, it’s important for us to understand a few key things about our voice so that we can take care of this crucial tool in our teaching and communicating toolkit.

If you’d prefer to listen to a podcast, listen to our helpful podcast with voice coach Sally Prosser.


10 Ways to Take Care of Your Voice

What You Need to Know About Your Voice

  • Your voice is created by the vibration of your vocal folds (a.k.a. vocal chords).
  • These are two bands of smooth muscle tissue that are attached to muscles in your larynx (a.k.a. voice box) which is located at the base of your tongue.
  • Your vocal folds, your tongue and the surrounding muscles in your neck and face are like any other muscles in your body and need to be warmed up before use to avoid causing damage or pain.

With all this in mind – here are 10 easy things you can do to take care of your voice this year.

(1) Stay Hydrated

Keep a bottle of water at your desk and sip it at regular intervals. Limit your caffeine intake as it dehydrates and can make your larynx and vocal folds dry too.

Voice care for teachers

(2) Plan Rest Breaks for Your Voice

This is something you need to do every day! Not just when your voice is tired or hoarse.

When planning your lessons for the day, consider which activities will require significant vocal effort and which one won’t. Try to alternate them, if possible, so that you can rest your voice throughout the day.

Voice Care for Teachers - planning lessons that give your voice a break

(3) Avoid Vocal Extremes

That’s shouting and whispering! While it’s no surprise that shouting isn’t so great for our voice, both of these vocal extremes can cause stress to your vocal chords.

There’s actually a difference between whispering and speaking quietly. It’s best explained by identifying that a whisper contains more breath. This extra breath puts pressure on your vocal folds in a more acute way than when you are just speaking in your normal voice at a low volume.

(4) Use a Personal Amplification Device

As awareness of the impact of vocal strain builds amongst the teaching community, personal amplification products designed specifically for teachers are becoming more common in classrooms.

You may have already seen these portable voice amplifiers from @thincproducts starting to appear on social media. This kind of device is a fantastic way to ensure you aren’t going to strain your voice day after day!

(5) Learn How to Project Your Voice

While you can definitely use a microphone in your classroom, as someone who speaks to groups on a daily basis, learning how to safely project your voice is crucial.

Projecting your voice is very different to shouting. While the volume of sound we make when shouting often comes from a closed and strained throat, the volume we can create when projecting our voice comes from an open throat, thus reducing the stress placed on our vocal folds.

The most simple way to begin learning how to project your voice is to imagine your voice coming out of your mouth and physically travelling across to the other side of the room. This little mind trick helps us to practice “forward resonance” which is the fancy term for increasing the volume of our voice by making it resonate in the hollow parts of our face. Speaking ‘from the centre of your face’ helps to reduce the strain on your throat and your vocal chords while maximising how far your voice can be carried across a space.

For more tips for commanding an audience or your class, listen to our teaching podcast with vocal coach Sally Prosser as she takes us through some confidence-boosting self-talk routines.

(6) Use Conscious Breath

Learning how to support your voice with your breath is so important! Singers learn to “sing from their belly” in order to create sound in the most physically ‘safe’ way. By supporting their voice with breath, the effort it takes to create the vocal sounds and volume singers need come from the muscles in their abdomen rather than the more delicate muscles in their throat.

Of course, you can go and take singing lessons if you’d like to – they will help you become a great custodian of your breath and your voice! However, if you’d prefer to take a slightly more introverted approach, practising mindful breathing, meditation or yoga is a great way to learn how to utilise the power of your breath.

Also, it’s important that you warm-up your voice. For an easy to follow warm-for your voice, listen to our podcast with Sally Prosser where she takes you through simple 3-step, 1-minute voice warm-up for teachers.

Voice warm up for teachers

(7) Avoid Throat Clearing

Throat clearing is essentially banging your vocal chords together with great force.

The physical impact of throat clearing is similar to that of having a bad cough. Rather than forcing a loud or ‘sharp’ throat clearing, try instead to sip water and swallow hard or clear your throat very gently if you really need to.

(8) Use Non-Vocal Attention Grabbers

Find ways to limit speaking over noise in loud places by using non-vocal attention getters. Some ideas include:

  • clapping rhythms
  • hand signals
  • playing music
  • using a whistle or a bell.

You might like to check out our post Fun Attention-Grabbing Tips for Your Classroom for more ideas.

Attention Grabbers for teachers and kids

(9) Consider Your Whole Health

As much as we’d sometimes prefer not to acknowledge, our overall health has an impact on every aspect of our physical and mental wellbeing. Our body’s ability to make voice is no different.

  • Fatigue, in particular, can have a significant impact on our voice.
  • Eating a balanced diet helps to keep the mucous membranes in our throats healthy.
  • Regular exercise increases stamina and muscle tone, which improves our posture and, in turn, improves our use of voice.

Teacher Wellbeing and voice care for teachers

(10) Take. Your. Sick. Days.

When you’re sick with a hoarse or husky voice you need to take time off. Like a runner who has strained a muscle, you can’t return to the track and pretend that a ‘gentle’ run isn’t going to do further damage and lengthen your recovery time.

While it’s true that taking a day off can mean more work than just turning up, it’s so important to listen to your body and give your voice time to heal before heading back into the vocally demanding realm of the classroom teacher!

Have you lost your voice while working as a teacher?
Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!

8 Comments

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  • Zoha Thamer
    ·

    Great tips! I especially like the voice amplifier idea. Sometimes I suddenly lose my voice while speaking to the class and get a very scratchy throat and I know then I must have strained my cord too much!

    • Paul (Teach Starter)
      ·

      We're glad you found this helpful, Zoha! Thanks for taking the time to give us your feedback!

  • Rebecca Jeffrey
    ·

    Hello, I am a new teacher and by the end of my first week, my voice was distinctly faded! I have now got a Redcat and am using hands signs more, also I am putting in 'voice breaks' during the day - such as in silent reading. Thanks for a good article, bringing it up as a topic that needs discussing.

    • Jill (Teach Starter)
      ·

      Hi Rebecca. Thank you for your comment. I'm happy to hear that you have been able to put some strategies in place to help save your voice. It's so important and a great idea to get into these good habits early in your teaching career.

  • Briegh
    ·

    Take your sick days! Best and hardest advice to follow! You feel so guilty. It took losing my voice weekly to seek help and finally put myself first!

    • **********************
      ·

      Absolutely! Taking days off work can be such a hard mental battle to fight (with ourselves!). But a day here and there to ensure we are healthy and well makes the rest of our time at school much more productive and beneficial for everyone, doesn't it!

  • Augusta Monro
    ·

    I have lost my voice for days at a time in the past because I did not stay away when my throat got sore. I would add to your comments about shouting. All that does is make the class noisier. Using a moderate or “normal” speaking voice forces the class to keep quieter to hear. Control of noise is easier to establish along with non-verbal signals. A rhythmic sh sh shshsh and a finger on the lips helps. Never try to shout above the noise! Some teachers have naturally loud and dare I say it shrill voices. I have not so have developed other techniques.

    • **********************
      ·

      Hi Augusta, Absolutely! It can certainly take a lot of self-awareness not to shout about a noisy class. Thank you for taking the time to share what is working well for you! Kind regards, Cassie

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