Teaching is one of the most vocally-demanding professions. It demands long periods of speaking. Often added to that is environmental noise competing with your voice for the students' attention, inadequate ventilation, few opportunities for resting the voice, extra vocal burdens such as tutoring, lunchroom monitoring, parent-teacher conferences, to say nothing of your own personal vocal demands if you yourself have children, sing in religious services, or socialize in noisy environments on the weekends.
For these reasons, teachers are among the highest risk group for voice problems. To help you prevent minor vocal irritation from becoming a major problem, take a look at our vocal hygiene tips where you'll find information about the benefits of drinking lots of water and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Here are some additional suggestions for teachers:
- Personal microphones can help a lot. They aren't very expensive and will help your voice carry to the back of the classroom.
- Your voice should be warmed up before teaching. Just as a singer or actor warms up their voice before a performance to maintain a healthy voice, the teacher should similarly get his or her voice ready for the classroom "performance" demands. Read about many types of exercises that you can perform from our Vocal Warm Ups page.
- Balance the vocal demands of teaching with vocal rest. You would not expect yourself to be able to participate in a sport every day without some rest periods in between. So too, your voice production system needs rest. If possible, schedule one to two hours of complete voice rest after you finish teaching for the day. Limit extraneous voice use on those days when your voice is feeling particularly tired. That means no singing to the radio, limiting telephone calls, avoiding noisy social environments, and generally concentrating more on listening than speaking during conversations. (See our tips on voice rest.)
- Quiet the class environment as much as possible. Speaking against background noise is quite difficult, and puts a significant added strain on your voice production system. We know, of course, that many aspects about the physical classroom and location are beyond your control - noisy ventilation systems, street noise, and the challenge of managing students, to name just a few of the factors. Get together with other teachers in your school to brainstorm ideas for managing environmental noise.
- Enlist student participation as much as possible. We recognize that class participation is dependent upon the age of the students, among other factors. But it can help to have a discussion with the class about your voice problem. Explain that you cannot shout. Tell students that talking amongst themselves while you are teaching is not only distracting to other students, it's hard on your voice.
- Use non-vocal signals to gain attention of the students, whenever possible. Flashing room lights, clapping hands or ringing a bell are easy alternatives to yelling for attention. Sometimes even standing quietly is enough to get a few of the students' attention and then those students will quiet the rest of the class.
- Move about the room to avoid rigid posture. Standing in one place for the whole class encourages stiffness, which is counter-productive to healthy voice production. Movement helps keep the muscle of the throat and upper body relaxed, and helps engage all of the students in the room.
For additional suggestions about talking to groups of people in a vocally-healthy way, take a look at Presentation Skills.