Don't bawl yourself out

19th September 2003 at 01:00
Advice for teachers in their early career

If you lose your voice, you'll soon realise how important it is. Teachers use theirs as much as the busiest actor - but day in and day out, and without any special training. So it's essential you look after it.

The voice is part of the muscle and breathing system, both of which suffer under stress, so the ability to relax is crucial. Coughing and throat-clearing cause strain and are often habits rather than physical necessities. Putting constant demand on the voice through speech, shouting above pupils or singing when the voice is tired or sore can also do damage.

So can continuing to speak with a sore throat or using maskers such as painkillers or sprays that provide temporary relief. And whispering is just as harmful as shouting because it strains the voice.

You should seek medical advice for:

* a persistently hoarse voice

* change in vocal quality, pitch, shifts in pitch or breaks in the voice

* vocal fatigue for no clear reason

* tremors in the voice

* pain while speaking

* complete loss of voice.

Think of strategies you can use to engage pupils that don't involve your voice. Consider body language, signals and gesture, and where you position yourself. Encourage pupils' listening skills, and agree signals such as time-out gestures.

Find non-verbal ways to attract attention. You might clap a rhythm that the pupils have to repeat back to you, or raise a hand. The look, the smile, the glare, the tut-tut can be more effective than words, as can a theatrical silence or closing of a book.

Use your voice with care and economy. Say things just once - some teachers have a habit of repeating everything. Emphasise key words orally, and write them on the board for added effect. Listen to yourself teaching: are you using intonation to keep attention, or unnecessarily repeating things or talking too much? For more volume without shouting, project your voice.

Open your mouth more and speak from the lungs rather than the throat.

If you need to shout, shout the first word then quieten down. Lower the pitch to sound more authoritative and avoid squeaking. Breathe in a relaxed, focused manner, avoiding lifting the shoulders and chest.

Drink plenty of water - aim for six to eight glasses a day. Tea, coffee, fizzy drinks and alcohol dehydrate the body. Inhale steam to relax a tired throat, and don't cough to clear your throat too often - swallow or yawn instead. If possible, find someone to massage your neck and shoulders to help you relax. Hmm, nice.

Sara Bubb's 'The Insider's Guide for New Teachers' is published by TESKogan Page price pound;12.99

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