26 May 2008Add to My Folder
Top tips on how to use your voice healthily and effectively when starting teaching to avoid long-term damage
Full-time teaching can be a huge shock to the system – physically, emotionally and also vocally.
There are few professions that use their voices as much as teachers. Voices are used throughout the day in the classroom, as well as communicating with colleagues, parents and support organisations. If you don’t use your voice properly, you are not aware of your voice, or misuse it, and this can lead to vocal strain – or at worst, vocal damage: something you definitely want to avoid unless you wish to speak with a weak, raspy voice!
Prevention and knowledge about the voice is key to preventing vocal strain. If you are in a job where you can potentially injure yourself, you need to know how to prevent this; this is also the case with the voice!
Warm up before the start of the school day
Athletes, dancers and singers warm up their bodies, so you should too. Give yourself a good stretch and loosen up your shoulders. Relax!
Drink plenty of water
It takes a minimum of two hours to absorb water into the body. Mucus can form round the vocal cords (folds) making your voice ‘foggy’. Also, if there is a lot of mucus in your throat, there can be a tendency to cough or clear your throat, which can strain the vocal cords. Drink 500ml water when you get up, and continue taking water throughout the day.
Pace yourself vocally in the classroom
Plan your lessons so that you include a lot of speaking quietly to small groups or individuals as well as addressing the whole class, where you have to use a louder voice. While there are occasions when teachers need to raise their voices to be heard or to manage a class, it is worthwhile remembering that a quiet, firm, confident voice once a class is sat down, leads to a quieter class.
Have good posture
A lot of vocal strain can be caused by tension in the upper chest, neck or shoulder area. Try to concentrate on making these areas relaxed and free: allowing the voice to work more efficiently. Two situations in the classroom are worthwhile considering; when using the white board, position yourself at 45 degrees, rather than with your back to the class – you can then see the class with minimal movement and strain to your neck (and throat). When working with one student, instead of bending over them, either crouch down beside their desk or kneel, remembering to keep your shoulders, neck and upper chest relaxed.
It is important not to speak from your throat, as this causes vocal strain and fatigue. If you hum ‘ng’ or roll your ‘rr’ in a siren, you can feel your voice resonating in your head. This is where your voice should feel it is being produced. Try to focus on this when you are using your voice.
These are an occupational hazard to teachers – particularly in the first couple of years before you have built up immunity. Also, when you are working so hard and are tired, you tend to pick up every bug going! As well as drinking a lot of water, seek advice from a pharmacist who will be able to recommend suitable ‘over the counter’ medications for your ailments. If the symptoms persist, visit your GP. If you are really ill, you are better off staying at home to recover, rather than struggling on.
Project your voice
There are situations when you have to be audible as a teacher. For ladies in particular, there can be a tendency to shout at high pitch. Try to relax your shoulders and ‘lower’ the pitch of your voice; it becomes more audible and puts less strain on your voice. The Speaker of the House, Betty Boothroyd used this technique to great effect when managing unruly MPs!
Visit Executive Voice where you will find vocal exercises, advice for teachers and products, and can also sign up for a free newsletter. Alternatively, call 0844 576 3015.
If you have vocal strain and are concerned about it, find out if your local authority offer courses on vocal usage – or request that they do! You could also visit your GP.