Give your voice some TLC

“An actor goes on stage for between two and three hours each day and speaks for, maybe, one of those. They wouldn’t dream of treading the boards without first thoroughly warming up their voice. Teachers, on the other hand, speak to their classes for up to six hours a day. Some, such as language and PE teachers, use their voices intensively.”

Actor and voice trainer for Connaught Education, Victoria Pritchard neatly sums up the neglect and, worse, misuse that teachers subject their vocal chords to on a daily basis.  As well as projecting their voices, she points out, teachers rely on their voices to engage with students and keep them stimulated.

Voice problems are more common among teachers than commonly Victoria believes: “I regularly hear teachers complain that by half term, they’ve lost their voice, or have a sore throat by Fridays,” she says. (see panel below)

Still more seriously, Victoria detected symptoms of nodules on the vocal chords of two of her trainees and this hunch was later confirmed by their GPs. Nodules are a serious condition, which, if severe, can require surgery followed by three weeks of complete rest.

If all this sounds a bit perturbing, the good news is that vocal damage is preventable. Follow Victoria’s advice and voice workout and you’ll have a great teaching tool at your disposal, and enjoy better vocal health.

Support your diaphragm
You can get the diaphragm warmed up by breathing into your back. But the best way to isolate the diaphragm and experience the sense of it functioning is to work through sound. A good technique is to say ‘hi!’. The sound requires an ‘up and over’ effort from the diaphragm: “a physical equivalent of over arm action of a cricket bowler”, says Victoria.

Expand the range of your voice
Voice production ranges from the bottom of the diaphragm up to the throat and we tend to resort to the throat voice when nervous. The best way to improve range is to practise altering the pitch, pace and tone of voice.  Read a paragraph out of the newspaper every day, “as if you’re declaiming your Oscar-winning speech”, suggests Victoria.

Be aware of your posture
Try and stand ‘centred’ with your weight equally distributed between both feet, when speaking. Practise rocking forwards and speaking and then backwards and speaking: you’ll notice how much freer the voice is when you then stand centred. Relax the intercostal muscles [between the ribs] and let your ribs swing back and forth.          

Five minute voice warm-up for the shower or car 

  1. Breathe deeply into the back, so you can feel your back expand. In through the nose and out through the mouth
  2. Warm up the muscles in the face. Best way to do this is make funny faces
  3.  Sing a song 

Hoarse tales from the frontline

  • “I’ve had hoarseness/lack of voice/sore throat ever since I returned to work in September. I was told I may have nodules, but to rest the voice and see what happened, as it could just be due to unaccustomed shouting! I teach music, and was in the middle of a big production, so was abusing my voice daily and there’s no way I could rest it AND teach.”
  • “I think may have nodes on my vocal cords. I have lost my voice again. It just went mid conversation on Saturday. I went to the doctor several times before Christmas and asked to be referred for voice therapy and I have heard nothing since. They just don’t want to know or care. … Doctor has given no advice other than to try not to shout and ‘we’ll wait and see what the folk at ENT and voice therapy come up with”.
  • “I’ve been voiceless for two weeks, off school for one of them and it’s driving me nutty … been given anti-biotic and pain killers, have had the sorest throat ever. Will have to go back to doctor tomorrow if it’s no better and get sick note as I’ll have been off five days.”
  • “Have suffered from a sore throat - and lost my voice four times since September.
  • The pressure of keeping up with all of senior management team’s new initiatives is taking its toll.”

These comments were posted in the TES Forum by Nuffsaid;vshell ; Magistra; Lucky 13

Need more workplace advice? Visit Teachers’ survival guide