As we head back to school, fading summer memories of sleeping in or lazing on a sandy beach get replaced by lesson plans, lectures, meetings and bus duty. You use your voice to teach students new and exciting subject matter, control rowdy hallways or lunch rooms, make presentations to parents and provide input during all those meetings. By the end of the day, your voice is as rough as sandpaper. What’s a speech-language pathologist, teacher, choir director, coach or college professor to do?
Try using these tips for yourself or sharing with other faculty members for a strain-free day (for your voice, at least):
1. Stay hydrated. Vocal folds collide around 500 times per second, creating friction. Internal hydration helps keep the heat down by thinning out secretions that moisten the delicate vibrating tissue. Drink water, milk and other non-caffeinated beverages. Common recommendations for how much you need to stay hydrated dictate drinking eight glasses of water each day, or about half your body weight in ounces. Keep track of your hydration with a motivational water bottle offering goal times written on the side of the bottle. Add topical hydration to your routine as well. A humidifier on your bedside table helps keep your voice box in tip-top shape while you sleep.
2. Use amplification if possible to prevent speaking loudly for long periods. Some schools have microphones that can be plugged into overhead speaker systems, allowing children to hear the teacher no matter where they sit. If this isn’t possible, consider investing in a personal amplification system like Chattervox or Spokeman. I know school budgets are tight (I can hear you laughing now about where funds are appropriated!), but with education from you, they might consider this a smart investment. After all, your voice is your main tool for teaching!
3. Rest your voice! I know it’s difficult, but try to set aside at least five minutes of silence every teaching hour. Set your students up with an activity, a reading assignment or a group project. Lunchtime tempts us to chat with co-workers, but if you know you have had a vocally taxing day, opt to catch up on paperwork in your classroom while resting your voice.
4. Be smart when using your voice. Bring students to you to avoid yelling across the playground. Use sound or visuals to your advantage to gain their attention. Flashing a light on and off, ringing a loud bell or even clapping your hands to a rhythm that students understand helps save your precious vocal folds from trauma. Any excessive trauma to vocal fold tissues might result in damage and swelling, causing a change in your voice quality.
5. Exercise vocal folds to stay in shape for your work weeks. All teachers are professional voice users, so keep this in mind when you organize lesson plans. Use your abdomen to project your sound—this alleviates strain in your throat. Try vocal exercises designed specifically for people with a vocally demanding professions. Vocal Function Exercises—researched and developed by Joseph Stemple—are easy to replicate. They include a warm-up on one note, a glide to your highest note, a glide to your lowest note and holding out a succession of five notes that gradually get higher in pitch.
Remember, if you experience hoarseness for two weeks or longer, contact an otolaryngologist, for an examination. Vocal nodules are very common in teachers and coaches, so monitor yourself for any changes you notice in your voice.
Kristie Knickerbocker, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and singing voice specialist in Fort Worth, Texas. She provides voice, swallowing and speech-language treatment in her private practice, a tempo Voice Center, LLC, and lectures on the singing voice to area choirs and students. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 3, Voice and Voice Disorders. Knickerbocker blogs on her website at www.atempovoicecenter.com. Follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook firstname.lastname@example.org