Voice care

Teachers/lecturers are at least eight times more likely to have voice problems than other workers. This means it is very important for education staff to consider voice care and take steps to prevent problems before they arise.

Voice-saving techniques

Take a relaxed approach

A tight neck gives a tight larynx, which gives a tight sound that is as uncomfortable to listen to as it is to produce. So take a relaxed approach both physically and mentally. Take advantage of any staff breaks in the day, and schedule time in for rest and relaxation during the busy working week.

Stand tall

This will improve breath support and give both you and the class the reassuring feeling that you are in control. Collapsed physical posture compresses the rib cage and the ability to inflate the lungs, generating tension.

Breathe

Allow yourself to breathe deeply and easily before you have something important to say. Big breaths will help to generate volume and enable you to power the voice from lower down, away from the throat. Be focused on where you are sending the sound, to that it gets to the intended audience.

Speak clearly and speak less

Over 60 percent of what we say is interpreted with the help of consonants. Enunciate as clearly as you can and use word endings. Glottal stopping (over attacking on words starting with a vowel) is not a good way of commanding attention, as it brings your vocal folds forcefully together, causing painful inflammation. Clear speech and economical use of words will cut your teacher talking time and reduce strain.

You may also wish to consider taking ATL's training course on voice care (free to members) - see the link on the right-hand side of this page.

Early warning signs of problems

These may include breaks in the voice, unexpected changes of pitch, changes in vocal quality (eg hoarseness), sore throat, voice tires easily, regular loss of voice, and a sensation of a lump in the throat.

To prevent problems avoid:

  • smoking, or cut down if you can

  • excessive consumption of alcohol, tea, coffee and fizzy drinks as they dehydrate you

  • medicated lozenges that kill pain; suck non-medicated pastilles instead

  • a heavy or spicy meal last thing at night (can cause indigestion and acid reflux which inflames the vocal folds)

  • dairy products which can cause overproduction of mucous

  • talking above background noise

  • yelling in answer to someone when you are upset

  • talking in a whisper when your voice starts to go

  • clearing your throat unless you have to.

Top tips for the end of a busy day

  • Voice rest - stop talking when you get home.

  • Steam the back of the throat to moisten and ease pain.

  • Gargle with cooled and boiled salty water to reduce pain and fight infection.

  • Hydrate by drinking lots of water (1.5 litres per day).

If you have a voice problem

If a problem persists for more than 10 days, seek help from a GP. Be persistent - the GP can refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist, who will be able to direct you to a speech and language therapist as appropriate. Alternatively, contact the Voice Care Network UK (see the link on the right), who may be able to give you some support straight away.

Need further advice?

Your first point of contact is your ATL rep in your school or college. Your local ATL branch is also available to help with queries, or you can contact ATL's member advisors on tel: 020 7930 6441 or email us. Please have your membership number to hand when telephoning and include it with any correspondence - this will help us to answer your query more quickly.

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