A Most Neglected Instrument: A Teacher’s Voice
Teachers have some of the highest vocal demands of any profession. It is not uncommon for teachers to talk for many hours straight – often in rooms that are acoustically poor. The larger the class and the more active the students (appropriately or inappropriately), the higher the strain on the voice.
According to some studies, about 60% of all teachers will develop a voice disorder in their lifetimes – which is about three times higher than the general population. Voice therapists often report that teachers make up a large portion of their clients.
These voice problems are not just affecting teachers, but are also affecting students. A study conducted in 2004 indicated that teachers who had voice issues missed more days of work and avoided important interactions and discussions. This resulted in students having more difficulty learning from teachers who had voice problems.
Since I seemed to be a teacher who was susceptible to voice strain, I decided to do something about it early on in my career. I purchased my own PA system for the classroom. It consisted of a wireless handheld microphone and four speakers placed strategically around the classroom. That didn’t completely solve the voice problems, but it certainly helped. I could talk softer and be heard better. Students no longer missed important information or directions. I also allowed students to use the microphone when sharing information with the class which provided another benefit. A few years after using my own system, I was placed on the school technology committee. One of the first things I proposed was to equip all classrooms with audio enhancement systems.
Aside from audio enhancement, there are a number of things teachers can do to assist their voices. Sometimes underlying health issues can exacerbate voice problems. Asthma, allergies, colds, bronchitis can be triggers for voice issues if left untreated. So, teachers susceptible to those conditions should aggressively seek treatment to get them under control.
Other ideas to help the voice include the following:
- Be aware of the voice and consciously rest it whenever possible.
- Try to spread out high demand voice tasks so they don’t occur all at once.
- Use hand signals and non-voice sounds and cues instead of the voice whenever possible.
- Never yell, scream or clear the throat.
- Engage in some warm-up voice activities whenever intense voice sessions are coming up.
- Be aware that some substances – such as menthol and eucalyptus – actually strain vocal cords in the long run.
- Try to keep vocal cords hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Unless teachers have a condition or illness, hoarseness is not normal and could be damaging vocal cords. Using some simple, but effective, strategies to maintain voice health could save teachers from long-term damage and prolong teaching careers.