It’s a bad voice day: you can’t hit your high notes, your voice is hoarse, and the kids are asking “what’s wrong with you?” You’ve got laryngitis… again.
Laryngitis is the bane of any teacher’s existence, but especially a music teacher’s! Not only is it an inconvenience, but bad habits can lead to routine bouts of laryngitis – which can lead to vocal damage.
While I’m not a doctor, I’ve had my fair share of voice issues in the past involving visits to ENTs and SLPs. Here are some things I’ve learned to help you prevent laryngitis as a music teacher.
What Is Laryngitis?
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Laryngitis is an inflammation of your voice box (larynx) from overuse, irritation or infection.” Your vocal cords sit within your larynx. Normally they open and close smoothly, but they can become inflamed. This is what causes your voice to sound hoarse or even disappear completely.
What Can I do to Prevent Laryngitis?
Don’t repeat yourself unless absolutely necessary. Think of what’s most important to say and say that. I love telling a good story – but especially if you know you have a vocally heavy week or you can feel your voice getting a bit hoarse, cut them out for now.
This also forces students to pay attention when you say something the first time. If you show them that you will say something three times anyways, it makes it less imperative to hear you the first time.
Another way to cut out talking is with your attention getters. While the classic “Class, class,” “Yes, yes,” call and response-type attention getters are cute, they’re once again using your voice. My school uses Responsive Classroom, so we ring the RC chime to get students’ attention. You can also show a quiet signal (ours is the “quiet coyote”), clap a pattern, or start doing an action (e.g., body percussion) until students notice and begin to copy you.
Your vocal folds need both internal and external hydration. This means avoiding drinks that will dry you out (sorry – that means coffee!) and making sure you’re drinking plenty of water. While I personally don’t understand the allure of flavored water, if that’s what will get you to hydrate better, go for it!
In terms of external hydration, consider the humidity level of your room. If it’s dry in your room, consider setting up a humidifier. Also think about whether you’re constantly sitting under a vent blowing heat or A/C – is there somewhere else you can station yourself to get out of the draft? There are also personal steam inhalers.
You wouldn’t run a marathon without warming up first, would you? I sure hope not! Just like we warm up our muscles before physical activity, we need to warm up our vocal folds before we use them all day.
Get a Mic
Mics have saved my life over my teaching career! I never have to talk over a quiet conversational level, but my students still hear me loud and clear. Every teacher who’s seen me use it has wanted one of their own!
Most recently I’ve been using the Samson XPD2 – my school was kind enough to buy it for me when I asked. If you’re on a budget, this ZOWEETEK portable mini voice amplifier is very popular among music teachers.
I’m a social butterfly at work – when I get home, I like to have a quiet evening with just me and my cats. So the staff lounge is my time to shine!
If you’re feeling a bout of laryngitis coming on, though, be very careful to take vocal rest wherever you can. This means, yes – limit your chatting in the staff lounge or with the teacher across the hall. However, it also means vocal rest in your classroom.
Students are capable of being more independent than you probably realize. Structure your lessons so that students take the lead. Not only does this put the responsibility for learning in their hands, but it gives your voice a break!
Consider Medical Concerns
Certain medical conditions, such as acid reflux, sleep apnea, allergies, chronic sinusitis, and weakened immune systems can contribute to losing your voice. Talk with your doctor about the relationship between any vocal concerns and medical diagnoses.
There is so much misinformation out there about laryngitis! Please don’t fall for these myths:
- Tea will soothe your vocal folds. Nope. It might hydrate you or help reduce a sore throat, but you can’t run tea over your vocal folds to soothe them!
- Whisper to save your voice. Whispering actually makes your vocal folds hit each other with more force than they would by speaking normally. It’s the same logic as yelling to save your voice!
- Losing your voice is no big deal. If it happens every once in a while with a cold, sure. But if your voice hasn’t come back and it’s been a few weeks or if this happens regularly, check in with an ENT. There might be other factors at play.
Your voice is possibly your most important teaching tool! It’s so important to take care of it. Reminder: even though I have many years of experience being right in your shoes, I’m neither an ENT nor an SLP. If you have ongoing voice issues, I’d highly recommend visiting one or both to get to the root of the issue.
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