First Step - Sound advice hits the spot

20th February 2009 at 00:00
Slowing down could help to stave off illness and get your voice in working order

Rest is the best remedy, so we're told. And if your throat is sore, you shouldn't force your voice. It's time to stock up on chicken broth or hot lemon and ginger. This is all valid and worthy advice, but much harder to stick to in practice when you're a teacher.

Working in an office might allow for some of the above, but pupils are unlikely to respond to a teacher who doesn't talk, and they won't appreciate getting work back weeks late because you were "taking it easy". In reality, you're much more likely to press on at full speed until you reach the haven of the holiday. And this has its own pitfalls.

"I didn't feel too bad last term, but as soon as the Christmas holidays started, I was sick with the flu," says Mike Lamb, an NQT in biology and psychology at Hurstpierpoint College in Sussex. "This term, I've been trying to look after myself, but it is hard when the hours are so long."

Mr Lamb spent the mid-term break eating and sleeping. "I'm running a half- marathon and am desperate not to get ill," he says. "Last year, I couldn't do it because I got chicken pox from one of the pupils."

This winter has been particularly bad for the winter vomiting bug and chest infections, but it's important that you return to school feeling able to cope with all the demands of a new term. Mr Lamb says he is helped by the great food at his school canteen. Organising Duke of Edinburgh and going to the running club also make it easy to get exercise into his weekly routine.

Sue Cowley, former teacher and author of How to Survive Your First Year of Teaching, says new teachers should find time at least once a week to do something they enjoy. "Creative or athletic activities that allow the mind to clear are good," she says. "If you're in a good place mentally and physically, you are going to be a much better teacher."

It's also important to plan activities outside school. "I advise teachers to do something that doesn't require intellectual effort or teaching responsibilities," she says.

One of the most common ailments among teachers is a sore throat, which can be frustrating for new teachers because, as Ms Cowley points out, "you want to feel like you've got the class under control".

"You do that by talking to the whole class for 20 minutes at a time," she says. "It takes time to develop other methods, but you can involve the pupils and they usually prefer it: make them read aloud and work in small groups so you speak quietly to individuals."

Roz Comins, co-founder of Voice Care Network UK, believes teachers should think of their voice as an instrument or a muscle that needs to be looked after. "A lot of new teachers find that their voice gets painful initially and they make the mistake of straining it to try and get the point across," says Mrs Comins, who runs workshops for about 800 trainee teachers each year.

Posture and using your full breath capacity are vital when you have to speak a lot. "It might sound silly, but singing sentences in the shower or in the car on the way to school makes you sustain sounds and think about breathing," says Mrs Comins. You should eventually stop forcing your voice and straining your throat as a result.

Another tip is to stand with your head, shoulders, hips and feet aligned while you are speaking so that your voice is supported from your lungs at full capacity. And make sure there is no tension in your shoulders.

It is great to be an enthusiastic teacher, but at this stage in the year, you'll have realised that your enthusiasm has a limited shelf-life if you don't look after yourself.

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT THIS WEEK

  • Drinking water is essential to keep the vocal chords moist.
  • Avoid fizzy drinks, coffee and spirits when you have a sore throat.
  • If your throat is sore, pour boiling water in a bowl and breathe in the steam with a towel over your head. This will help to get moisture into your larynx.
  • Menthol, cough medicine and products containing lemon or eucalyptus are for colds and stop the nose from running, but they can be drying for the larynx, so avoid them.
  • If you have asthma, consult your doctor about the best medication: some dry up your larynx more than others.
  • Don't use throat sprays because you'll still force your voice, but won't feel the damage it's doing.
  • The best way to prevent problems is to use your voice efficiently in the first place.

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