Global research indicates that more than one in five teachers experience voice problems every year. Teachers are between three and five times more likely to experience voice problems than the general population and are a staggeringly 32 times more likely to report voice problems than other occupations.
Why do teachers get voice problems?
- Teachers use their voices more than other professional voice users. The vocal folds are tiny; the whole larynx is about the size of a 10 cent coin. The vocal folds of a teacher vibrate about 1 million times each teaching day. They are the only muscles in the body that hit against each other and are therefore at risk of injury. Teachers are vocal fold athletes but very few have any training in how to use their voices efficiently.
- For any athlete to avoid injury, recovery time is crucial. Unfortunately the voice is not like any other instrument: it cannot be packed away at the end of the day. Teachers talk all day and then go home and do the same again!
- About 70 per cent of teachers are female. The vocal folds of women vibrate at a higher frequency (around 200 times per second) and they are therefore more prone to injury, especially structural vocal fold changes, that is, nodules.
- Few teachers have any vocal training or basic knowledge of how to care for their voice.
- Many teachers tolerate voice problems and do not seek help. This could exacerbate the problem and might prolong the amount of treatment needed for recovery from voice injuries.
Ten tips for a healthy teaching voice
- Sip two litres of water through the day.
- Avoid persistent coughing and throat-clearing.
- Don’t misuse your voice by yelling, screaming, barracking or shouting.
- Rest your voice whenever you can; have some vocal recovery naps during the day.
- Maintain a daily voice warm-up and cool-down routine.
- Don’t whisper and certainly don’t smoke.
- Use the quietest voice you can and still be heard: set the volume level in your classroom so you don’t strain to be heard.
- Use amplification when it is available, especially outside and in noisy environments.
- Rest your voice during colds or throat infections.
- Seek help early. If your voice doesn’t recover to normal within 10 days see your doctor with a view to seeing an ear, nose and throat specialist.
Visit the World Voice Day website at http://world-voice-day.org/ to see how to celebrate our wonderful voices.