Caring for your voice

Glenise Borthwick explains how your voice is a professional tool; it's crucial that you know how to look after it.

The importance of voice

In your first few years of teaching you will become a professional voice user. That means for five hours every day you will be giving instructions, answering questions, reading from texts, explaining, cautioning, disciplining, repeating what you say, and fluctuating your volume.

If you lose your voice, or at least lose your volume, you will have problems.

Many class management issues depend on you being able to give a short loud instruction; a squeak will not demand attention.

Your authority is often your voice and pupils will not behave any better out of sympathy if it fails you. On the contrary, they will see it as an opportunity to indulge their own agenda in class.

Looking after your voice

You will often change the volume of your voice many times during the day and this sudden alteration in volume will cause havoc with your vocal chords. It's important to protect your voice and take care of your health. There are a number of other factors in the classroom other than voice usage that could cause you problems, such as humidity and background noise. Thankfully the days of smoke-filled staffrooms are a thing of the past.

In your first few years of teaching you will be susceptible to colds and flu. This will also impact on your voice and, like others in the profession, you will attempt to work through your illness and discomfort only to find you are worsening the problem and risk long term damage. Some teachers consider a hoarse voice to be part of teaching.

Unless you want to end up sounding like Animal from the Muppets you should take preventative steps.

Identifying a voice problem

The vocal stress test - your voice is exhausted if you experience:

  • throat pain when you speak or swallow
  • a sore throat in the morning which disappears as your voice warms up
  • a hoarse, tired voice in the evening an increase in mucus, especially if it is not discoloured
  • rapid changing pitch or loss of control of voice

Please seek medical advice if the following persist:

  • hoarseness for more than two or three weeks
  • regular hoarseness or voice less
  • significant voice quality changes
  • awareness of constant vocal fatigue
  • difficulty or pain when swallowing