Teachers talk a lot. It’s an integral part of the job.
Some may shout, others may whisper. Some teachers will speak normally in the classroom, others will project their voices as if they were on stage.
Whatever their style of speaking, nearly all teachers will, at some stage in their career, suffer from a sore throat or lose their voice because of overuse.
What can you do to to look after your voice and stay healthy?
It can be difficult to control your environment in school. External factors such as noise outside of the classroom, the number of pupils in the class, the material used to construct the building and the size of the area you need to reach can all contribute to an environment that strains your voice.
Your classroom should be well ventilated and cleaned regularly. Dry air and dust can have an adverse effect on your voice. If you feel that the air in the room is too dry, you can introduce a few houseplants (and use them to teach children about photosynthesis and plant care perhaps!) or just put a mug or two of water on top of your radiators in the winter.
There’s not a great deal you can do about external noise but you can try to not compete with any roadworks or construction noise by moving around the classroom to talk to your students in smaller groups.
If the room has many hard surfaces – glass, brick, metal, concrete – you may find that your voice creates echoes. In this case, it’s best to speak slowly and enunciate clearly rather than increase volume.
A classroom with softer surfaces – polystyrene ceiling tiles, curtains, carpet – will, instead, deaden sound. Again, avoid raising the volume of your speech and project your voice using good posture and breathing from your stomach.
Your pupils’ behaviour can also affect how you use your voice. If they talk in class or are disruptive, the temptation to speak loudly or shout is instinctive. Instead, do your best to implement your school’s behaviour strategy to insist on quiet in class and don’t be afraid to discipline students who persist in disrupting your lessons.
Drink regularly and often. Not just coffee and tea (although they are perfectly acceptable drinks as the myth that they act as diuretics has been debunked) but try to set an example for your students and drink plenty of water. Preferably from a glass or reusable bottle to show that it’s not necessary to create more plastic waste just to stay hydrated.
Avoid sugary drinks as these can lead to feelings of tiredness when the sugar rush wears off.
Although it is obvious, both smoking and vaping can dry your throat and are not great for the health of your vocal chords.
Eat well, sleep well and exercise – all of these can help you to take care of your voice because the healthier and more well rested you are, the less likely you will be to stress your voice.
Focus on your posture (drop your shoulders, sit or stand up straight, unclench your hands and relax your jaw) and breath using your diaphragm. Your voice should be projected from your chest, not your throat.
Finally, don’t clear your throat loudly to attract attention in class as this can damage your vocal chords over time.
Rest your voice
Teaching is not just about you talking and your students listening. Give your voice a rest by encouraging independent learning.
Ask questions and create smaller work groups in class. Effective questioning is an excellent way of starting group discussions and empowers your students to actively participate in their own learning.
Try to introduce non-verbal ways of attracting your students’ attention in class – clap, make eye contact, wave a hand, tap your desk. Explain what you are trying to communicate when you introduce any of these methods and, after a while, your students should understand what is expected when you use them.
If your throat is sore or painful, and your voice is starting to sound a bit raspy or strained, talk to a pharmacist or see your doctor for further advice about keeping a healthy voice.
In general, the best way to look after your voice is to stay hydrated, speak normally, don’t complete with extraneous noise, rest your voice when possible, and take care of your own health and stress levels.