Speaking out on voice issues

Voice problem

Teachers are one of the largest groups of professional voice users world-wide, with their voices being their primary tool of trade and one of their most essential assets. As such, teachers who use less than optimal voice production strategies are at increased risk of developing voice disorders. Talking extensively, talking loudly, speaking over background noise and projecting over large distances are just some of the vocal pressures that teachers are confronted with every day.

While nearly everyone experiences minor throat discomfort or small changes in breath control, voice quality, pitch, loudness, or resonance from time to time. When these changes are very slight and do not recur every day, there is usually nothing to be concerned about. If the voice symptoms are more than very slight, last for hours or days, recur regularly and do not result from a viral infection, it is important to implement voice care strategies.

The usual cause of voice strain will be a combination of small problems related to the way the person uses their voice, the physical environment in which the voice is used and increased levels of stress and tension. One of the most common factors which increase a teacher’s risk of developing vocal problems is using the voice in potentially harmful ways. These potentially harmful vocal habits are commonly referred to as vocal misuse.

There are many situations faced regularly by teachers that are conducive to these vocal misuse behaviours. Some frequent examples of such situations are:

  • Speaking or singing over background noise
  • Speaking loudly to attract student’s attention or to discipline students
  • Speaking over large distances or to large groups without effective amplification
  • Speaking in an unnatural pitch or voice quality when reading to students or directing plays
  • Singing in a style or vocal range which is appropriate for the student but uncomfortable for the teacher
  • Cheering or barracking at sporting events

Fortunately, it is not difficult for most teachers to avoid voice problems and to have an effective voice for their entire teaching career and beyond. Key ways teachers can reduce vocal misuse include:

  • Stand in a place in the classroom that makes it easiest for students to hear
  • Arrange the classroom so those students who are likely to be noisy or need extra attention are at the front
  • Focus on how your voice is feeling rather than trying to hear it above the noise
  • Use non-verbal means to gain attention and convey some of your message – use hand and arm gestures or sound signals such as clapping or a bell/whistle/children’s party clicker
  • Use routines such as playing a particular piece of music to signal changes in activities
  • Increase your awareness of when you clear your throat and cough – count the number of times you do these things in a period of an hour, and then set yourself a target of reducing the number in the next hour.


Last updated
24 March 2014