For educators such as teachers and coaches, voice problems are an occupational hazard. Teachers on average are more than twice as likely to suffer from a voice disorder when compared to non-teachers, and three times more likely to consult a doctor regarding voice disorders.
It’s not uncommon for teachers to have about a million vocal fold collisions in a day, leading to vibration overdose. That’s a million little forceful collisions the vocal tissues have to endure, and as you get louder the intensity increases, says Nelson Roy, a professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Utah. The loudness is most toxic. If we can do something about the loudness, we can resolve many educator voice disorders.
Female teachers between the age of 40 and 55 years have been found to be most at risk. This is most likely because women have smaller larynxes or voice boxes and their vocal folds are shorter and thinner than male vocal folds. This difference in size is why females often have higher pitch voices and this means the vocal folds vibrate more quickly and in turn are subjected to more wear and tear. The age range is due to the length of time these educators have been in the classroom increasing the amount of accumulated strain their vocal folds undergo.
It’s not surprising; given the length of time educators have to talk each day and their need to project in large, noisy classrooms. Many go home hoarse and raspy, only to continue using their voices with their own families, cheering at after-school games, reading bedtime stories to young children, and, let’s admit it, nagging. Finish that homework, now!
Although many educators undertake harmful vocal behaviours such as raising their voices at disruptive students, even those that do not, still have to speak with a loud enough volume to project over background noise, especially when they are communicating in outdoor environment. Unfortunately, with so many people around, schools are often noisy environments and acoustics were not taken into account in the design of older classrooms.
The best solution, says Nelson, is amplification. If you can be attached to some sort of speaker system – like a headset with a speaker worn on your waist – it can lower the need to speak loudly, he says. Our research shows that teachers who amplify with speakers, which can cost as little as about $100.00, will derive significant benefit.
Researchers have found that to compensate for their voice problems, educators are instead reducing their activities or their interactions with students. Around 18 percent of teachers were found to be making these modifications at least five times a day when experiencing voice problems, which is a figure that is too large to ignore when dealing the education of future generations.
For more strategies to assist with teachers voice use and vocal care in the classroom, read our article: 3 ways for teachers to improve their voice.