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 how important voice care is 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!
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.
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.
10 Ways to Take Care of Your Voice
With that in mind, here’s what you need to know about voice care for teachers.
#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.
#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.
#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.
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#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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!