Why build a website just for teachers about voice?

For the teacher, voice is an essential tool.  A teacher without a well-functioning, easy-to-hear voice would be like an artist without a palette of paints or carpenter without a hammer.

However, recent studies confirm that voice problems run rampant in the teaching profession. One study showed that as many as one-half of all teachers experience a voice disorder at some time in their professional lives. (Compare that to 4-6 percent of the general population.) Another study found that teachers are a whopping 32 times more likely to report voice difficulties than a sample of people in other occupations.

Science has made great leaps in better understanding how the human voice works and what to do to keep it working well. We estimate as many as three-quarters of all voice problems could be prevented with information and a little motivation. That’s the basis for the Voice Academy.

How much does it cost to use the website?
It's free. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, a division of the National Institutes of Health, has picked up the tab for the development and maintenance of this website. The NIH is concerned about your vocal health, too.

How will I know if I need to follow the advice on the website, or if I should see my doctor?
Diagnosis over the Internet is a lousy idea, so we won't do that. In general, any significant health concern deserves the attention of your doctor. So, what signals a significant vocal health concern?

  • Hoarseness that lasts for more than three weeks; colds and viruses should have run their course by then.
  • Sudden changes to your voice: increased breathiness in your voice sound, pitch problems, running out of breath, or an inability to sing softly.
  • Swelling in the neck not accompanied by a sore throat or cold.
  • Numbness in the face, head or neck.

As a rule of thumb, it should not hurt to talk. Safety issues aside, voice problems almost always have a negative impact on the quality of life.

I've been teaching for over twenty years. Will I have to make big changes to my teaching style? I'm not sure I want to do that.
And, likely you won't need to overhaul your teaching style. You may find that even small changes in your speaking and lifestyle habits or the classroom environment will pay big vocal health dividends.

I get lots of sore throats. Is that what you're talking about?
This is a great question. If your throat or neck is sore, but you don't have a runny nose or fever, your symptoms may actually be fatigue. New research — so new that this website will be one of the first places results are shared — is designed to better understand the differences between muscle fatigue versus tissue fatigue. You can learn more about the cause, prevention and treatment of these two types of fatigue in the Voice Academy Lounge.

I have to talk loudly to keep my students' attention. How can I keep control of my class and protect my voice?
A few suggestions: Dramatically lower your volume, rather than increasing it. Often, students will quiet down to hear you. Try an easy-to-use, easy-to-wear portable amplification system. We will give you all the details in the Voice Academy Media Center. Rap on the edge of your desk with a ruler, or use a bell as a signal for quiet, rather than talking above the din. Refuse to continue speaking until the students quiet down. They will soon find that the time it takes for the class to become silent will shave minutes off activities they enjoy such as recess or free time. Continue to find other subtle ways to positively reward your class when they are receptive to your speech.

Consider that background noises (noisy heating/cooling systems, echoes, clanging pipes and leaky windows) can be major culprits. You'll explore these possibilities in the Voice Academy Acoustically Friendly and Unfriendly Classrooms.

Can the constant exposure to colds and other illnesses at school contribute to voice problems?
Can it ever! Close contact with kids who have upper respiratory infections is a hazard of the profession. Unfortunately, the common cold and sore throats usually involve your major voice-making organ (the larynx). When the membranes lining the vocal cords become infected or inflamed, you may note hoarseness, roughness and a lowering of pitch of the voice. Usually, these symptoms resolve when the virus has run its course. Sometimes — we theorize — teachers change their voicing habits during a laryngitis bout, and these new habits become ingrained. The "new" way of speaking may lead to long-term voice problems.

Will the website address smoking? Does smoking really hurt your voice? Many popular singers smoke.
Smoking is just all-around bad news for your voice. Cigarettes have the effect of keeping the tissues in and around your voice-producing structures constantly irritated. This is why heavy, long-term smokers' voices are often low in pitch. Scientists have also found a connection between smoking and the reflux of stomach acids. Smoking seems to lower the pressure in the valve joining the esophagus to the stomach. If stomach acids "back up" in the throat, they may spill over into the larynx (voice box) and irritate its delicate tissues. Finally, smoking decreases lung function and without good lung power, more stress is placed upon the larynx when speaking or singing.

I've heard about the Voice Academy website, and as I understand it, the information is organized in a series of rooms. Why?
Dividing information into various rooms nicely symbolizes our current understanding of the human voice: What we know about voice originates from medicine, speech-language pathology, physics, music and theatre. From this cumulative and interwoven backdrop, we can present both practical and theoretical information.

Also, teachers have different sorts of voice issues and need different types of information. Soon after entering the website, newcomers are encouraged to answer a questionnaire. Immediate feedback suggests a route through the school, taking you first to the rooms with the information you need most.

Finally, dividing information about voice into separate rooms may help you wade through the material in a series of sessions. We know teachers are busy people and may appreciate having information broken into manageable pieces.