Tips for teachers: how to save your voice

I can’t count the number of times I lost my voice as a classroom teacher. Sometimes it was due to viruses and colds (I got strep throat a million times during my first few years of teaching), but mostly, it was due to talking all. day. long. The only thing that helped was sipping constantly on water, but I still found myself with a sort throat on an almost daily basis. And even now, I know that a day of doing professional development is almost certainly going to mean a dry and irritated throat.

Voice Yourself in the Classroom is a book that I wish I’d read years ago. Author Valerie Bastien is a school teacher, singer, and vocal coach who is passionate about helping teachers project their voices and maintain their speaking voices. I’ve invited her to the blog to share some helpful info with us.

Valerie, there are so many areas of professional development for teachers to focus on. Why should they learn more about the voice?

Thanks so much, Angela, for your interest in teaching and the speaking voice! That is an excellent question. On average, teachers do approximately 2 hours of voicing for 8 hours of work. Vocal health plays an extremely important role in the way we approach our work. Sometimes we struggle to be heard over the class and raise our voice unnecessary resulting in vocal fatigue. The classroom environment is also particularly vulnerable to the cold and flu virus. This can in turn affect our mental health and overall wellbeing. The teacher’s vocal tone is detrimental in his/her ability to communicate effectively during teaching or while resolving student conflicts. A beautiful voice helps creating a positive learning setting for students to maximize their academic potential.

How does your passion for the voice fit in with your teaching philosophy?

I’m a musician at heart and an educator by choice! I’ve always loved singing and studying music as thought me a lot about myself, perseverance, discipline, overcoming fears, stress management, organization, social skills, imagination and setting goals. Many of the skills I have learned as a singer are transferable to learning in general. We are all talented in our own unique ways. Hard work and determination is the key to success! I love the science of vocal production and sharing my knowledge with other teachers and students inspires me and brings me joy. I feel blessed to teach elementary school during the day and vocals evenings and weekends. I get the best of both worlds :)

What kind of voice should teachers strive to have in the classroom?

A voice that is kind, positive and assertive when required. I teach how to find one’s natural dynamic voice. It generally sits in the middle of one’s range (on a pitch that is not too high and not too low), it is clear (without breathyness or rasp) and pleasant to the ear. It projects effortlessly at an appropriate volume. It feels relaxed and comfortable.

What happens when teachers raise or strain their voices too often?

Persistent vocal misuse can result in laryngitis, nodules, polyps, contact ulcers, etc… I think that suffering from vocal fatigue is also exhausting mentally and greatly affects one’s moods, self-esteem, confidence and therefore the ability to perform at our best. In the long term, vocal strain can change the way one sounds during speech and negatively influence how he or she is perceived by the audience.

Sometimes it feels like the only way to get students’ attention is to raise our voices above the level of noise in the classroom. What should we do in those situations? 

Classroom management will increase a teacher’s ability to practice positive vocal habits. A strategy that has been very useful in my classroom is to practice the Silence Diet. It is very important to wait until the entire class is completely silent before addressing students. Try to use clapping or other non-vocal cues to alert your class to stop talking now. To maintain silence in my classroom, we practice what it looks and feels like to be quiet and respectful. I refer to it as the Silence Diet. We take a few minutes every day to sit properly at our desk or on the carpet to practice stilling the body. I set my timer at 1 minute and pause it every time someone moves. By doing this, students learn self-control and how to focus their energy on themselves. It’s amazing to see how it helps students settle down after a fun activity or coming back from recess. When I teach or during student presentations, everybody follows the Silence Diet without the need of setting a timer of course. The classroom is peaceful. It’s fantastic!

What about the times when it’s absolutely necessary to yell? Are there safer ways to project our voices?

Yes, definitely. First, it is important to take a big enough breath to power the voice. Then engage the diaphragm to support the voice and send it to its natural resonators: the chest and head. As stated earlier, the natural dynamic speaking voice is generally in someone’s middle range, not too high or low. My advice is to make a list of the top 10 sentences you use in your classroom and practice them over and over. Pay special attention to your posture, slowing down your speech and enunciating in order to free your vocal instrument of tensions. Never try to push your voice. If you feel a slight irritation after raising your voice, stop, breathe and realign yourself.

Often teachers lose their voices after picking up cold and flu viruses at school. What are some ways we can protect ourselves and stay healthy?

Washing hands with hot water and soap and keeping them off the face remains the most effective way to prevent getting sick. To reinforce your immune system, I recommend a low alkaline diet which means avoiding sweets and caffeine mostly. Eating lots of green vegetables and fresh homemade meals also contribute to keeping the body’s acidity level low.

It’s pretty common knowledge that smoke, alcohol, and caffeine are bad for our voices, and drinking water is good for them. Are there any tips for taking care of our voices that we might not know about?

As you mentioned, keeping oneself hydrated is ideal. Drinking five to six bottles of water is the recommended daily amount. Gargling water will also hydrate vocal cords very quickly. Sleeping with a humidifier is helpful to some people as well. One of the best advice I have ever heard is: if you “feel” your voice, you’re doing something wrong. Being able to recognize when irritation happens is the first step to correcting bad habits. As soon as discomfort occurs in the throat, take a break to breathe and realign yourself.

Where can teachers find exercises to help them strengthen and project their voices, or warm up their voices before starting the day? 

In order to instill correct vocal habits, it is important to practice diaphragmatic breathing, how to engage your support, vocal placement and enunciation consistently. A suggestion would be to plan between 10 to 20 minutes daily to warm-up the voice before class in the morning or during lunch time. My book Voice Yourself in the Classroom gathers multiple vocal exercises to help teachers develop their natural dynamic speaking voice independently. I have also included lesson plans to integrate learning about vocal technique in the classroom. This can be done as part of a music or drama class, oral language or for personal development purposes. You can find out more about classroom management ideas such as the Silence Diet, how to fight the cold and flu virus and allergies, and how to maintain vocal health in my book. My website www.VoiceYourselfInTheClassroom.com is also an excellent source of information and free vocal tips. Finally, I am also available for private consultations for further guidance.

Want to learn more? I highly recommend Valerie’s book Voice Yourself in the Classroom for any teachers who struggle with losing their voices or frequently have sore throats after teaching all day. In the book, Valerie shares practical strategies in a highly relatable tone, just like she’s done here. It’s a fantastic resource!

The following two tabs change content below.
Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Susan Fletcher March 9, 2013 at 7:10 pm

I ususally lose my voice at the beginning of the year until I get used to talking to a class again. I think I talk too much and I need to keep the kids actively engaged and working more.

Reply

2 Shibahn Landry March 9, 2013 at 7:57 pm

I have been having problems with acid reflux and that seems to be causing me to have constant voice issues. I reworked my diet and was able to get my voice back. I was teaching first grade and singing at church with ease again. But I recently moved into our home and my diet went by the wayside so I’m back to square one. More tips would be awesome though. I miss my voice.

Reply

3 Jessica Z March 9, 2013 at 8:37 pm

I am always drinking water throughout the day (or at least trying to). It seems my voice goes when I talk a lot and my throat gets dry.

Reply

4 Karen March 9, 2013 at 8:43 pm

I just got over having laryngitis so this is perfect to read. IF I find that I’m having to raise my voice a lot to get my kids’ attention (preschool), I’ll specifically talk in a softer voice so they have to be quieter. It works most of the time and overall, I’m known as a teacher who has a quieter classroom because I focus specifically on this. But I tend to get sick a lot so that is what zaps my voice….

Reply

5 susan March 9, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Too much talking often contributes to losing my voice.

Reply

6 Tara March 9, 2013 at 9:37 pm

Thanks for the tips. As an English teacher, I do a lot of reading aloud in class and find myself without a voice often.

Reply

7 Jennifer Crawford March 9, 2013 at 10:57 pm

I lose my voice at LEAST once a year – orange juice is my savior!

Reply

8 Adam Mishan March 10, 2013 at 11:16 am

I lose my voice when I have to yell and scream a lot, rest and light vocal warm ups help me

Reply

9 Kira March 10, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Thank you for the beautiful tips

Reply

10 Val March 10, 2013 at 7:49 pm

I have wondered about this topic as I have had some problems with my voice this year. No wonder! I also teach and sing at church, and this year I’ve had some lengthy colds along with a diagnosis of GERD. I like the tips here and want to know more.

Reply

11 Jennifer March 10, 2013 at 7:54 pm

When I feel my throat is strained, I lower my voice. I have some students who are great when the class is getting loud they sing the quiet chant.

Reply

12 Deb March 10, 2013 at 7:54 pm

I thought I was the only one that was consistently losing my voice throughout the day with my first graders. I not only lose my voice but I come home feeling totally consumed from talking so much! Thank you so much for the “reality check” for me and for the things I can do in defense of my poor vocal cords!

Reply

13 Deanna March 10, 2013 at 8:06 pm

good tips. but I don’t know if I can stay away from the caffeine.

Reply

14 Shanna March 10, 2013 at 8:16 pm

I take care of my voice by drinking lots of water all day, and by just trying not to raise my voice as much as possible. However, I still end up with a sore throat often…

Reply

15 Julie B March 10, 2013 at 8:17 pm

I lose my voice in the fall and spring every year…even as a substitute! I’ve been forced to take 2-3 days off from school each time by my doctor at the risk of losing my voice permanently. Yikes! I can’t afford that before my career has even begun!

Reply

16 Bonnie March 10, 2013 at 8:20 pm

As a new teacher, I’m always worried about losing my voice!

Reply

17 Heather March 10, 2013 at 8:22 pm

I lose my voice a couple times a year. This year, it’s already happened twice, and it’s lasted longer both times. It’s becoming a problem.

Reply

18 Lori McDonough March 10, 2013 at 8:29 pm

I used to only lose my voice in the fall when I was doing so much talking and explaining, and multiple fans were trying to cool my 90 degree classroom. Now I’m having lots of trouble with my voice nearly every week. But I also used to be involved in two choral groups. Now one of the groups no longer exists, and I’m the director of the other, so instead of working on my own soprano voice on a regular basis, I’m often singing with the altos and tenors to help them learn their parts. I think I’ve developed bad vocal habits…

Reply

19 Danielle March 10, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Such great advice! I lost my voice after a cold this year and felt hopeless in the classroom. This post has now given me a few things to think about.

Reply

20 Nikki R. March 10, 2013 at 8:54 pm

I usually raise my voice too often. Teenagers talk a lot…

Reply

21 Carolyn March 10, 2013 at 9:07 pm

I lose my voice ALL the time when teaching!!!

Reply

22 Brittany March 10, 2013 at 9:27 pm

I tend to lose my voice a lot when I do not feel well. I have very talkative students and I need to rely more on non-verbal cues in order to help “save” my voice during the day. There have been many weekends this year when I have had a very raspy voice and a sore throat due to talking so much during the week. I will definitely be trying some of these tips!

Reply

23 Kate March 11, 2013 at 12:10 am

This year I lost my voice almost weekly for two months without being sick. I just saw an ENT last week and she warned me to take it easy because there was some edema on my chords. I need to get back to my musical training. This so timely, thanks for sharing!

Reply

24 Michele March 11, 2013 at 6:54 am

I would love to learn more about using my voice properly in the classroom. Thanks!

Reply

25 April March 11, 2013 at 8:24 pm

I lose my voice when I’m sick or when allergy season is in full swing. The only things that help are water and silence.

Reply

26 Autumn Hassell March 12, 2013 at 8:36 am

I currently have vocal nodes due to teaching. I am also a band director so I am around CONSTANT noise. I am working on trying to get mine to do down so I do not have to go through surgery :( This book would work wonders for me and make my speech therapist very happy :)

Reply

27 Melanie Miday-Stern March 13, 2013 at 7:51 pm

I would love to get this book and share it w/ teachers esp. new teachers. How awesome this resource would be!

Reply

28 Mrs P March 14, 2013 at 1:32 am

I usually lose my voice with a cold or flu. But, most often my voice will just hurt after a long day of noisy students. I really liked reading about the silence diet. I will try it.

Reply

29 Tammy Aiello (aka Mme Aiello) March 14, 2013 at 11:09 pm

I soooo need to read this, Angela & Valerie! I don’t fully lose my voice often but I do “feel” it a lot. I need to be more consistent about practicing the “silence diet” and that problem leads me to end up talking over my classes at times. I’m fine with productive noise… even lots of it… in the classroom, but even in teacher’s college I was told to “project” more.

Reply

30 LeahS March 15, 2013 at 8:56 pm

So much good info! allergy season is my worst time.
Awhile back I sounded so terrible I had first graders telling me I didn’t need to try to talk. :/

Reply

31 Jana March 15, 2013 at 9:19 pm

I want to learn more about saving my voice….

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: