Be vocal and make your voice heard

Astrid Ritchie

Teaching is much easier with a voice than without one, as Professor Ted Wragg has pointed out. I have long thought that the most effective priests and politicians are the ones who employ a bit of Thespian flair in the business of winning hearts and minds. Former Bishop Richard Holloway or Prime Minister Blair illustrate the point.

Some will remember the current Pope's visit to Edinburgh in the early 1980s. A dramatic kiss for the grass at Turnhouse airport, a theatrical ride into town in the PopeMobile and the never-to-be-forgotten sight of the Pontiff advancing on three black-clad dignitaries of the Kirk cowering in the shadow of Knox's statue. TV caught perfectly their palpable Presbyterian dismay in case this white-robed figure advancing with arms outstretched was actually going to embrace them.

Dramatic presentation is a concept whose time has arrived for these professions: there is at least awareness of the need for courses which unlock the secrets of confident vocal projection. So what of teachers?

Theirs is the third profession which lives or falls by voice and ability to project - not only knowledge, but authority, humour, confidence and a sense of calm. Without these skills, what happens to classroom discipline?

So why are our teacher training colleges not employing rafts of drama specialists?

Take the first day for a trainee teacher recently in a Scottish school . . . he had heard about disruptive pupils and how they try it on with a new teacher.

Of course he felt daunted. Sure enough, his new pupils ignored him, crashing round the classroom - until he began to read the play he had prepared for the lesson. Silence and absorption followed. I think, said this young man, they like to meet people who can control the class. Being in control, he said, is fantastic.

Voice for teachers is a tool, an instrument, and even a weapon: one which needs to be protected and kept in peak condition. Teachers need knowledge of voice care and experience of vocal skills training. Sadly, teacher education still rarely seems to include practical or preventive measures to support and strengthen the voice, or the tips which often save the day for politicians and pop singers on warm-up, centred breathing, resonance, relaxation. Many student teachers don't know that their voice with training can become fuller, more expressive - and give them the magic ingredient - the confidence which commands attention and respect.

Basic to vocal health is the need to drink water - up to two litres a day. Difficult, but it makes a difference. Coffee and alcohol don't count: they're diuretics.

Weak voices, limited vocal range, dry air-induced hoarseness and throat infections all take their toll to the extent that it would actually pay the prudent heidie to organise an occasional workshop for staff with a skilled voice therapist. The General Teaching Council for Scotland is surveying teachers' voice problems, but you needn't wait for that. There is growing realisation that teaching can lead to voice disorders needing professional help; and that training can mean fewer problems.

The charity Voice Care Network UK is at 29 Southbank Road, Kenilworth, Warwickshire CV8 1LA; tel 01926 864000; website, e-mail The network lists 100 experienced tutors and publishes a handbook, More Care for Your Voice, at pound;4 plus 50p postage.

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Astrid Ritchie

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