(Rockville, MD) Teaching during COVID-19 will place increased demands on educators in countless ways, including stressing their most precious instructional resource: their voice. Already one of the highest-risk professions for vocal problems pre-pandemic, teaching while wearing masks, practicing physical distancing, and using online platforms can compound these health conditions unless teachers take measures to protect themselves, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).
ASHA recommends that educators do the following to preserve their vocal health:
- Practice healthy habits. Drink lots of water; limit alcohol (it dehydrates the body); don’t smoke; avoid shouting and throat clearing; and don’t try to talk over loud noise or push your voice when you are sick. Prioritizing good vocal hygiene can prevent long-term or permanent damage to your voice.
- Use a microphone. If you are teaching in person, using a microphone as part of a personal amplification system can reduce the need to project more forcefully due to masks muffling sound and due to added physical distance. Microphones also remind teachers that they don’t need to talk loudly. If you are teaching virtually, you can use a microphone that plugs into your computer’s USB port (or a headset with a built-in microphone).
- Take breaks. Give your voice an opportunity to rest as much as you can. Ideally, this will happen with brief breaks throughout the day, even if just for a few minutes between subjects (or classes). If that isn’t possible, strive for a quiet lunch break and some down time after the end of the school day.
- Reduce noise. If you are teaching in person, arrange your classroom in a way that fosters a quieter environment (your school’s educational audiologist can advise you on ways to improve classroom acoustics in light of COVID-19 requirements). If you are teaching online, follow these tips: Use a room free of noise from appliances and other family members, encourage good communication habits among students (such as speaking one at a time), and use helpful video platform features such as the “mute” button to eliminate loud student chatter and cross-talk. All of this can reduce the need to constantly raise your voice.
- Heed the warning signs—and seek help. Many teachers have lost their voice at some point, but signs of a more serious problem include unfamiliar or prolonged discomfort when talking or singing; hoarseness for more than 2 weeks; a breathy, rough, or scratchy sounding voice; and frequent coughing or throat clearing. If you experience any of these signs, seek help from a speech-language pathologist.
For more information, visit www.asha.org/public.
About the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 211,000 members and affiliates who are audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing and balance disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment, including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists identify, assess, and treat speech and language problems, including swallowing disorders.