Jessica Schwartz, MS, CCC-SLP
5 Voice Tips Every Teacher Should Know
Updated: Nov 5, 2022
In celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week, I want to dedicate a blog post to the inspiring, compassionate, and caring educators in our lives. Thank you to all our teachers for your hard work and selfless drive in shaping the lives of students of all ages, in all subjects, and in all types of learning environments. Especially after such an unconventional and challenging year adapting to pandemic safety measures with online and hybrid classrooms, managing zoom fatigue, and your efforts to motivate and encourage students from a distance, you deserve our deepest gratitude! However, today on National Teacher Day, the teachers become the students!
For a teacher your voice is invaluable. You rely on it to serve your community and teach your students, to maintain student safety, and to earn a living--not to mention the importance of your voice outside of the classroom! For this reason, I want to offer five voice tips every teacher should know to help you lead a fulfilling professional and personal life.
1. Understand your risk
As occupational voice users, teachers are naturally at a higher risk for developing voice problems. Talking for hours a day, projecting to the class, and sometimes raising your voice over student and/or background noise can be taxing to your vocal cords. Then add on social engagements and familial responsibilities outside of work, and your voice can become seriously tired! It's also well known that teachers, being exposed to their students' colds and sniffles, may get sick more often. Limited bathroom breaks can sometimes dissuade teachers from staying adequately hydrated throughout the day. The high stress of some teaching positions can also lead to reduced sleep, acid reflux, and other health issues that may contribute to voice problems. This perfect storm of a high vocal demand with possible illness and potential vocal hygiene obstacles can lead to prolonged hoarseness and trauma to the voice. There are many other factors that can contribute to a healthy or unhealthy voice on an individual level. It may be beneficial to consult with your ENT and voice specialist speech-language pathologist (SLP) to learn what you can do to prevent voice issues down the road and receive vocal training to learn techniques to optimize your voice.
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2. Amplify your voice
Projecting to a full classroom or lecturing in a larger space without a microphone can being wearing on your voice. Some teachers feel their voice is loud enough, and that may be true, but this doesn't mean that you shouldn't use amplification. Allowing yourself to speak at a normal volume with minimal effort when using a microphone on a daily basis is much safer for your voice. Vocal cords vibrate around 100-200x per second (and sometimes more) for males and females when talking, respectively. Increasing your volume adds pressure to the vocal cords as they vibrate and rub together. By alleviating the extra pressure associated with a louder volume, you are reducing your risk of developing hoarseness and stiffness associated with problems like vocal nodules and muscle tension dysphonia.
Look into purchasing an affordable and portable personal voice amplifier. You may even talk to your administrators about providing an amplifier for you based on your school's ability. Research has also shown that students learn better from amplified voices. Every teacher I have worked with who has switched to using an amplifier has remarked on feeling a significant difference. But don't take my word for it--try it for yourself!
3. Stay hydrated
Hydration is key for lubricating the tissues of your body and keeping mucus thin and less thick and sticky. This is very important for healthy vocal cord vibration. As mentioned, your vocal cords vibrate together at a rapid pace during vocalization. If your vocal cords are dry, you can imagine they will be rubbing together like sandpaper, causing more roughness in your voice. Additionally, frequent throat clearing from a dry, scratchy throat or thick mucus in the throat is a harsh vocal behavior that can contribute to voice problems. Try to drink about 64 oz (8 cups) per day of water--or clear, caffeine-free fluids. Because we're all different shapes and sizes, an even better rule of thumb is dividing your body weight in half and drinking that number of ounces. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs, you'd want to drink 75 oz of water per day. Another great tip for teachers to consider is what you drink today will hydrate you tomorrow. So try to drink a considerable amount before and after work if you feel it is difficult to take breaks during your workday.
4. Pace your voice
Vocal pacing simply means to allow time for your voice to have breaks to rest throughout the day, or take "vocal naps" as we like to call them. Ideally, allowing your voice to rest for at least 10 minutes per every hour of talking is a good place to start. With vocal pacing, I'd encourage you to be creative in offloading your vocal demand. This could mean having a student helper present daily announcements, integrate more group work, have a student teacher or aide read problems aloud from the textbook or story-time in younger classrooms, and pre-record yourself if possible for repetitive tasks, etc. Pacing your voice can help save vocal energy for your school day as well as your voice needs outside of the classroom.
5. Don't "push" through hoarseness
This last tip may be of the utmost importance! If you are hoarse, losing your voice, or sick with laryngitis, do not continue to talk or "push" through the hoarseness if you can help it. This will likely cause strain which can lead to voice problems such as vocal nodules and muscle tension dysphonia that will require intervention to heal your voice. Instead, rest your voice, use amplification, hydrate, and follow other vocal hygiene recommendations during this time. Learning techniques and strategies from your voice specialist SLP such as diaphragm support, proper resonance, and muscle tension reduction can help you speak through hoarseness in some situations without further damaging your voice. If your hoarseness lasts beyond 2 weeks, schedule a voice evaluation with an ENT in addition to voice therapy.
You may be surprised to learn that frequently losing your voice is NOT normal, even for a teacher! Don't wait until your voice doesn't bounce back in the future to start implementing these helpful voice tips into your workday. For more information and tips on how teachers can take care of their voices, check out University of Iowa's Voice Academy website, or schedule preventive sessions with an SLP.
“Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.”- William Butler Yeats
Thank you for your dedication and commitment!
Jessica Schwartz, MS, CCC-SLP is a licensed and certified speech-language pathologist in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. She is the owner of Resonate Voice and Speech Services, a speech therapy practice based in Philadelphia that specializes in voice disorders, chronic cough, VCD/PVFM, gender affirming voice therapy, and adult dysphagia.