Episode 137

Love Teaching? Love Your Voice.

Recorded by | Run time: 16 min, 35 sec


Okay teachers: hands up if you’ve ever lost your voice! After a sports carnival, a performance rehearsal, playground duty or even just a regular day in your classroom? 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 how important voice care is for teachers. For more information, read How to Stop Losing Your Voice as a Teacher.

It’s important for us to understand a few key things about our voices so that we can take care of this crucial tool.

Today I’m joined by voice coach, Sally Prosser and we’re going to talk to us about vocal style and later, voice care.

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Love Teaching? Love Your Voice! Episode Transcript:

Bron: Teachers, hands up if you’ve ever lost your voice after a school carnival, a performance rehearsal maybe after playground duty or even just a regular day in your classroom? Research shows that teachers are three to five times more likely to experience voice problems than people in the general population. But despite this, many of us haven’t learned much about our voices, let alone how important voice care is for teachers. Yes, and it is important for us to understand a few key things about our voices so that we can take care of this crucial tool.

Bron: In today’s episode, I’m joined by voice coach Sally Prosser, and we’re going to talk about vocal style and then a little bit later voice care. Welcome Sally.  Uh, I know you coach people from all walks of life. What is it that you actually do in your sessions?

How a Voice Coach can Help You with Your Voice

Sally: Well, this is a very, very common question on my business cards. I have “No, it’s not singing”. I’m a voice coach. People think I’m going to break out into song. Um, so I guess the easiest way to explain it is I develop vocal fitness and there’s a few areas to it. First of all, you’ve got the way that you sound. So the quality of the voice, the tone. If people think, Oh, I’m a bit high pitched or I’m a bit nasal and those kinds of things, that’s in the area of sound.

Then we work on speech to make sure the speech has clarity and we also work on expression. So essentially making sure that you don’t sound boring when you’re talking and all that’s a good one. Teachers are very good at that, truly. Yeah. And something you know to be an engaging educator you do have to express in different ways, especially when reading a narrative or presenting a lesson. Yeah, really important skill there.

What is Vocal Style?

Sally:  Look, I think vocal style is similar to wardrobe in a way, in the same way that you might have your clothing style, you have a vocal style and it’s all the things that make up a good outfit I suppose. And I believe people can have different vocal styles as well. And the same way that you can wear something, you know you can be yourself but dress up for a ball or dress to go to the gym. You can put different vocal styles on to sit the scenario.

Bron: Cool. That’s a really good analogy because I’ve, I listened to your podcast this morning and you’re really good at explaining things in that way of using metaphors and analogies.

Sally: I mean I’m the queen of the metaphor now!

Bron: It’s really good to get that imagery happening and make those connections because you yourself are a teacher as well. You were a speech and drama teacher so you know how to get the messages across.

How to Develop a Vocal Style for Your Voice

Bron: I’m wanting to know: how do you develop your vocal style? Where does it come from?

Sally: I believe it comes from relaxing. Really. It comes from releasing tension. I find with a lot of voices it’s not, it’s, it’s the real voice isn’t coming out because it’s held back by either being too tense or not getting enough breath in or not getting enough of breath out, but when you can relax and get the breathing flowing, then the voice will flow naturally as well.

Bron: I sometimes joke that I can usually pick a teacher after having a really quick conversation with them because teachers do tend to have a very teachery way of talking both inside and outside of the classroom. I know, I feel like I’ve got that going. Do you think teachers typically have their own vocal style?

Sally: It’s funny you say that because people have said that to me saying, Sal, you really have a bit of a teacher voice. I think teachers have a beautiful clarity and I think it was a such a social situation where I was like, okay, so we’re going to go to this restaurant and then after that we’re going to go to this club and then we can just disperse from there. How does that, how does that sound during a teacher voice? So I think that what it is, it’s naturally using a lot of expression and a lot of clarity because of course that’s what you want the kids, you want the kids to understand what you’re saying and be interested.

Bron: Yep. So is it possible to cultivate that if you feel like you’re not naturally a person who speaks with clarity or speaks with expression? Is that something that people can train themselves to do?

Sally: Absolutely. 100%.

Bron: And how would you suggest that they go about starting down that road?

Tips to Help You Love Your Voice

Sally: Well, the first step, even though people would not want to do this, it’s to listen to your own voice. I find most people hate the sound of their own voice. It’s ignorance is bliss. Yeah, it’s there when I need it, but I’m not going to listen. And I even know with podcasts, a lot of people don’t listen to their podcast back because they just don’t want to listen to their own voice.

Bron: Oh yeah. It is confronting the first time you hear your own voice. It reminds me of, I remember in the olden days we used to have answering machines with a tape in it. Yes, I used to hate the sound of my voice on an answering machine, but now everything’s digital and you don’t have to listen to your voice recording on your voicemail and you don’t have to listen to your voice very often, but when you do, it’s like, “Do I really sound like that?”.

Sally: Yeah. It’s the most common thing. “Do I really sound like that?” And it’s true. The sound of the voice does sound different in our head, but not that different. I think the main thing is is we don’t listen. So I’d suggest starting to record yourself, whether it’s on video, whether it’s just reading a news article on the computer. Just put your phone open in the voice memo and record and then listen back because it sounds a little bit like alcoholics anonymous here, but you know, awareness is the first step to change. Yep. And that’s why my first session, I often do do that recording because people will listen back and say, Oh, I didn’t realise I did that. Or they’ll say, Oh, if I really monotone, I just stick on the same tone and I’ll say, no, actually you don’t, you don’t stick in the same tone. You vary the tone, but you just speak at the same pace. So it’s about just recognising what you do.

Bron: Yep. And going from there. Yeah. And that makes total sense. Especially to teachers because we do diagnostic testing. That’s a hard, hard one to say with our students and we get a baseline for what they are working with and then as they progress, they’re able to reflect back on where they started and see how far they’ve come.

Sally: Absolutely. It’s funny that we are in a newsroom at the moment because I started out in radio news and it was, you know, reading the news at 5:30 in the morning and I, it’s on a CD. Thank goodness nobody has CD players anymore. But I remember not that long ago taking a listen to it and thinking, Oh my goodness. Yeah. Like that’s just terrible. Yeah.

Bron: So you can see how far you’ve come and all the amazing work that you’ve done ever since that when, I don’t want to be cheeky here, but what sort of era are we talking so far?

Sally: Anyone down in Woolongong it was 96.5 Wave FM in Woolongong. Okay. And it would have been 2005 yeah.

Bron: So you’ve been working at this for quite a while.

Sally: Yeah. But like lots of funny things used to happen, especially when you’re voicing it that early in the morning. I remember one morning you’d start with the weather, so you’d say, “Good morning, it’s 5:30 I’m Sally Prosser, a fine and mostly sunny day ahead”. I remember one day I said, “A sign in mostly funny day ahead!”. You just carry on. I think that it’s really important to forgive yourself and not be too hard on yourself, and my, one of my aims is to make people love their voices because our voices are so precious and can do so much for us and it really breaks my heart when I hear that. People say, “Oh, I hate my voice”. Well, it’s another, it’s an extension of ourselves. It’s like our body. It’s like if somebody was telling you, I don’t like my body or I don’t like my personality, and it’s kind of something that you, yeah, it would.

Bron: It would definitely tug on the heartstrings. I nearly said hug the tartstrings.

Sally: We know what you mean. Yeah. The other work I do is with the inner voice. I say your real voice is a megaphone for your inner voice and we all have those inner voices. There’s a great Ted talk by Mel Robbins where she says, if there was a megaphone put up to your head broadcasting what you said to yourself, you would be institutionalised. And saying that we wouldn’t be friends with people who said things to us the same things that we say to ourselves. So I do a lot of work around getting that inner voice on side because it all starts with confidence.

Bron: Exactly. And we are our biggest critics of ourselves and um, yeah, probably other people aren’t noticing these little quirks or mistakes as much as we perceive them ourselves. But that’s part of growing as a person. So yeah, it’s really great that you work with people along those, those lines. So talking about your work, you are no longer practicing as a journalist, but you have your own business where you coach people on all things voice. So that’s a super cool job. Do you get to meet lots of different people from different walks of life?

What Does a Voice Coach Do Day-to-Day?

Sally: It is amazing. And every day I am amazed by the people that reach out to me, the diversity on my podcast. The tagline I use is no matter who you are or what you do, your voice matters. And unless you’ve sworn a lifetime vow of silence, and I say this is the podcast for you.

Bron: Yeah.

Sally: Because it’s right through, you know, of course I work with politicians and real estate agents and people in high level management, but I also work with, you know, warehouse workers who have to do toolbox talks at the start of the day and not only get their team psyched up and talk about safety, but they have to do that over the sound of forklifts and right. Things like that.

What are Specific Issues Teachers Have With their Voices?

Sally: Um, teachers have a lot of challenges as well. Yep. Yeah.

Bron: So what are some of the challenges that you think teachers have that are very occupation specific to them?

Sally: Oh, a lot. Yeah. You guys have got a pretty tough, there is so much pressure on your voice and your voice really needs to be on the whole day. It’s one of the, the tools of your trade, one of the key tools and on top of that noise from outside, if there’s a class playing outside and you’re trying to teach, or if you have an extended class bigger than normal.

So you haven’t just got your group, but you’ve got the yep, the whole lot in there. And often with kids I’d imagine there’s a little bit of chatter and things going on. So your, your one voice needs to be able to be heard over all of that.

Bron: Um, and I have a bit of experience with actually damaging my voice when I first started teaching because like you said, I was talking to more than the usual 25 students. I had a double teaching space and we had a little system going where we would share the 50 kids and the other teacher would support the key teacher in her role of teaching. So I actually really hurt my throat and I had to have a little, um, procedure done, which is quite yucky. We probably won’t go into it, but, uh, I think that that is something that’s super common with teachers.

Bron: They go and go and go until they just cannot go anymore. They just push through the discomfort of hurting their voice from raising it to a different level that they’ve never had to do before cause they’re not prepared. Um, so what can teachers do to mitigate, becoming,  injured in their field of work when it comes to their voices?

How to Avoid Injuring Your Voice at Work

Sally: Yeah, it’s really interesting isn’t it? Because you look at it as an a stage actor for example, they wouldn’t dream going on stage night after night without doing their proper vocal warmup and technique training every day. No. Uh, whereas teachers, you know, you’ve got to use it at that high level. You’re not just talking one on one, your using your voice in a big way. Um, so the first thing is technique. If you haven’t got the right technique and generally it comes down to breathing, then you’ll be just putting too much pressure on your vocal cords. The other part of it is rest in the same way that if you were running every single day and didn’t give yourself a break, your legs would get tired even if your technique was good.

I don’t know why I use running as a metaphor then because I was going to not much of an exerciser. That’s another amazing metaphor and it sounds like you know a bit about it. They’re so similar in so many ways. Yeah. I’m in the same way that you can’t go to the gym once and call yourself fit. Unfortunately, no voice is the same as something that you have to, you have to go to the gym and learn how to the right technique, get it fit, and then you have to keep going in order to maintain it. It’s not a, it’s not a bandaid solution that you might do some warm ups one day and then just neglect them the rest of the week. You need to, you need to keep that routine going and make it part of, I guess, your practice.

Bron: Absolutely. I believe a lot of teachers do get some voice coaching somewhere along the way. Okay. Yep. I have not personally had any experience accessing voice coaching, talking about it with colleagues. Sorry. It’s super important. Um, part of your job, your voice. It’s probably the most important behaviour management comes down to voice, classroom, organisation, um, your curriculum, delivery, everything revolves around your voice. So protecting it, it should be like the paramount a priority. We talk heaps about teacher wellbeing and we get a lot of queries about this on our, on our blog and also towards the podcast. And I think that the voice is often really overlooked. Why do you feel that we should make our voice health and I guess fitness a priority?

Sally: Well, again, it goes back to the whole wellbeing. If your body starts to go, often your voice will be the first, the first thing to go when you’re not feeling well. Um, so as part of the overall health and wellbeing, like looking after yourself and you know, drinking water and not pushing it too hard. It’s quite funny considering the weekend that I’ve had.

Bron: Did you have a good weekend?

Sally: And everything in moderation? I like that you say that. I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I’m sitting here going, yeah, must drink water and you must do this. Yeah. But it’s just, it’s like anything, it’s balanced and isn’t on a podcast really intrigued me and terrified me a little bit, which is to minimise coffee intake, alcohol intake and cold water intake.

Bron: And that’s scary because teachers, Oh my gosh, we love those things.

Sally: So do I Bron, and all I would say is just a balance. So if you’re going to have a coffee, then also make sure you have a glass of water. If you’re gonna have a glass of wine, lots of water, um, and room temperature water is going to be better for you than cold water. Sometimes I go to events and they’ve got this freezing cold glass of water there and I just pull out my little drink bottle and I think they think they feel bad, like they haven’t done the right thing. But you know, when you’re feeling unwell and the first thing you go for is the hot tea. So warmer, warmer fluids, a better. Yeah. Yeah.

Especially if you start to feel your voice going, you know, when you can just feel the scratch start to happen and that’s when it’s really key to take action. I’ve been really conscious of it, especially since starting my own business because as you can imagine, everything relies on me having my voice. Yeah. And so as soon as I start to feel a bit of fatigue or inflammation, I’m straight on the better thing. Sore throat gargle oh yeah. So, okay, so that’s a hot tip for the teachers. The Betadine. Yeah, it doesn’t taste great, but it seems to work and straight on the hot tea. Yeah. Okay, great. Yes.

Bron: So thank you so much for joining us on this episode or For the Love of Teaching and for people who want to learn more about using their voices effectively in teaching. You can subscribe to Sal’s podcast, That Voice Podcast, or you can get in touch with Sal.

Bron: Now, how should they get in touch with you?

Sally: You can find me on Instagram at Sally Prosser voice. Also Facebook, I’m on LinkedIn. Um, or Twitter. Sally underscore Prosser.

Bron: Okay, perfect. And we will link all of Sal’s,  social media accounts in the episode description. Thank you so much for coming in, Sally.

Sally: Thanks for having me. Bye.

Bron: To learn more about using your voice effectively in your teaching career, subscribe to Sal’s podcast, That Voice Podcast and sound will be popping back in again on for the love of teaching soon to talk about using your voice in a really professional way. Thanks for listening to this episode of For the Love of Teaching. Don’t forget to subscribe on your favourite podcast app so that you get the latest updates on all the newest episodes.


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