At the very best of times, when the day to day stresses of the job of teaching are not amplified several-fold by a rampant global pandemic, voice care is a top necessity for education professionals. As teachers, we use our voices in myriad ways throughout each day and have to make an impact, be heard and be listened to. The lecturer's voice is by far the greatest, most powerful device in the classroom and we have to take care of it, especially now in the era of teaching amidst Covid-19.
If your voice feels strained after half a term of classroom teaching following the lengthy lockdown with its reduced class sizes, you are not alone. If you can feel your voice cracking under the strain of each day, you are not alone. The National Education Union recognises that voice care is a “major concern” for lecturers and trainees. It cites statistics from Voice Care UK that show lecturers are eight times more likely to suffer from voice-related health conditions than other professions, with NQTs being at even greater risk. According to a University of Greenwich study, 50% of NQTs suffer voice loss in their first year of teaching.
While many voice problems are treatable, it is really important to check any symptoms you have with your health care provider. If you lose your voice for no apparent reason (like an infection), if you are hoarse for more than a week or so, if you feel as though you have a lump in your throat that is consistently painful, or your voice feels less powerful than usual, get it checked out. Discomfort and changes may be caused by numerous factors such as having a recent cold or infection, external injury, asthma, imbalance in the muscle tone in the voice box, stress and anxiety, but an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist can offer treatment or reassurance.
The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists offers advice on voice care and projection. It suggests that where public speaking is a part of your everyday life, it is important to take specific care of your voice and suggests that avoiding certain habits (see below) will help to preserve voice health when demands are high:
Five habits to avoid
1. Speaking over background noise
It is not always possible to avoid this in schools but at the very least the people in your room should ideally be silent before you address the whole class. Speaking over background noise for a prolonged period is likely to contribute to voice strain.
2. Heartburn and reflux
Avoid eating foods that give you heartburn or reflux as this can irritate the vocal cords, as can eating late at night.
Cut out smoking if possible; smoke irritates the vocal cords.
4. Dairy foods
Dairy foods can cause secretions which lead to throat clearing.
5. Throat clearing
This can lead to vocal cord irritation and is best avoided. Better to cough gently or sip some water.
Five ways to care for your voice
Deep breaths before you speak will help to keep your voice relaxed and help ensure that you release tension in your throat. Deep breaths also help you to make sure you are not speaking from high up in your throat.
A hunched posture is bound to make voice care more difficult. Pay attention to how you stand when you speak in the classroom. Stand tall, and relax your shoulders and jaw before starting to speak. Aim to speak from standing rather than sitting in the classroom.
Drink two litres of non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic fluid every day. Sips throughout the day are great for keeping your vocal folds lubricated.
4. Project safely
Avoid straining your voice by having a relaxed stance when you speak in the classroom, and comfortable clothes. Speak clearly with a range of intonation to make projection more effective. Don’t go for volume over projection as that can make your voice sound constricted.
Most teachers talk all day, every day. And if they live with others, they talk in the evenings too. But voice rest is important so whenever possible, relax, give yourself a break from talking, and allow your vocal cords some recovery time.
Please remember, if you have any disconcerting voice or throat symptoms that are lingering beyond the duration of a usual cough or cold, do consult your health care practitioner. Voice care is vitally important for teachers, and this year, more so than usual.
Find out more…
- The National Education Union voice care pages
- Get Hackney Talking voice care advice
- Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists voice care advice
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.