As a teacher, your voice is one of the most important resources that you have available to use in your classroom. You use it to explain the learning to your students, to encourage them in their work, to deal with their behaviour, and to perform many other vital aspects of your classroom practice. Just like actors and singers, teachers are classed as ‘professional voice users’ and it is crucial that they take care of their voices.
Teachers use their voices for 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, 39 weeks a year – far longer than any actor would do on stage. Statistically, teachers are at greater risk of vocal problems than the general population, for instance there is the danger of developing vocal nodules. If you have any concerns about the health of your voice, your first step should be to visit your GP for a check-up.
When considering voice usage, it is important to understand how speech is made – the way we physically form sounds when we talk. First, we use the lungs and diaphragm to force breath up the windpipe and over the vocal folds. Then the folds vibrate, and sound is produced, modified and amplified within the face and head. When you talk in class, you should feel the muscles in your diaphragm at work, rather than sensing muscular tension in your neck. Be aware of what you are doing with your mouth, tongue and teeth as you speak – make sure that you enunciate the sounds by using all your facial muscles, and this will help you with clarity and projection.
When thinking about your voice usage, and how it impacts on your teaching, consider your use of volume and tone. Teachers often speak slightly louder than is necessary, particularly when they feel under pressure or when they are stressed, for example by poor behaviour. Make a conscious effort to lower your volume to protect your voice. This has the added benefit of encouraging your students to listen more carefully. Tone is a powerful tool for boosting student engagement and learning. We can use tone to help us underline the meaning of what we are saying and also to increase understanding. For instance, if you sound curious, puzzled or excited, this will draw students into a topic. Using tone of voice will also have an impact on your non-verbal communication – the more tone you use, the more expressive your face and body will become.
Use a range of non-verbal signals in your classroom, both to protect your voice from overuse and to encourage students to take ownership of their learning. Rather than using your voice to call for silence, set a ‘silence signal’ before your class begin work, and encourage the students to return to you without you calling them. Consider the times when explaining something verbally is the best way to get learning across and when you might use other techniques, such as reading a passage in a book or talking with a partner. A musician can replace their instrument if it gets damaged; you must protect your voice, because it is the only one that you have. The British Voice Association is a useful support network, offering advice, links and resources.
You can find further, detailed advice and guidance in my downloadable CPD resource below: