Heading back to school after the summer break can often see a lot of teachers, especially new teachers, experiencing some difficulties with their voice.
Vocal strain is a common problem in the profession. According to research completed by the UK charity Voice Care, teachers are up to eight times more likely to experience some form of vocal strain than the national average. The constant demands of using our voices in a range of situations as teachers put even the most skilled speakers to the test.
The changing seasons, our particular classrooms, the continual cycles of cold and flu germs making the rounds, all impact on our most important resource.
While an awareness of voice use is encouraged and supported with some training in the early stages of a teaching career, it is an element of our practice that is quickly ignored or side-lined as more pressing demands and evolving pedagogies fill up our training and development time in schools.
A full vocal warm-up – including a range of breathing/strengthening exercises and articulation work is the ideal practice to ensure optimal voice care.
Forgetting or neglecting the needs of our voices can come at a cost; not just to the speaker themselves, but also to the students. In a 2004 study from the University of Utah, it was found the students didn’t learn as well when their teacher had a weak, raspy or damaged voice.
As an athlete trains and maintain their bodies for peak performance, or the musician cares and protects their instrument with the correct tools and best quality materials, so too must the teacher look after their voice.
However, there are few simple exercises which anyone can do at the beginning of the day to gently warm-up the voice and help prepare it.
- Breathing – breath support is at the core of effective voice use. In a standing position, place one hand just below the belly button – as you breathe, visualise the breath reaching down to this hand, encouraging your abdomen to release as much as possible to ensure a deep inhale, then exhale fully. A few of these at the start of the day will encourage proper breath support.
- Humming – humming is a gentle and effective way to activate the voice – especially if it’s a little tired or after the weekend when you have been using your voice less. Any kind of humming – a favourite tune or even simply holding a series of different pitches will activate the vocal folds and encourage the voice to resonate at the front of the mouth.
- Chewing – chewing, or more specifically, pretending to chew is a great way to activate the muscles of the mouth that effect the clarity of our speech. Imagining chewing a sticky toffee or other favourite chewy sweet for several minutes will strengthen the muscles of the mouth and face. The more you exaggerate this chewing motion, the more effective it is.
About our Community Expert
Paul is an actor and English teacher from Northern Ireland. Alongside his acting career working in theatre, film and television across the UK, he also teaches in primary and secondary schools throughout London.
Paul provides performance coaching to both individual clients and businesses.