As the COVID-19 situation continues to unfold, teachers are left in a difficult position at the front line of infection. Research shows that more and more children are catching the Delta variant of Covid-19, putting teaching staff at higher risk of infection.
Until more and more people are fully vaccinated, masks may well be one of our best teaching tools yet to allow a safer and smoother return to teaching.
However, having to wear masks in the classroom creates challenges for teachers and their voice. Education is primarily a communication and relational activity. Masks not only hinder the visual communication tools we rely on but can also muffle speech, create discomfort and can be psychologically unsettling.
Did you know?
The word mask comes from the Medieval Latin masca, meaning spectre or nightmare… And in fact sometimes it does feel like a nightmare to be wearing a mask all day!
Teachers are warriors right? Teachers can adapt to anything because they are amazing human beings!
Here are a few suggestions to support you in masked your masked teaching journey:
1. Use a Voice Amplifier
Although the mask covers the mouth, teachers can generally still be heard. However, is the teacher’s voice clear or muffled? You guessed it!
Anyone’s voice sounds muffled through a mask. The key here is to use a personal voice amplifier. Voice amplifiers from Thinc Products @thincproducts come highly recommended for teachers. With this teaching resource, teachers can balance vocal volume with projecting the voice. The amplifier also helps to avoid vocal strain with or without a mask, making it the perfect teaching tool once masks are not required. You can use the microphone by carefully placing it near the mouth but not against the mask material.
A worthwhile investment!
Where possible, also use language that is simple and straightforward. Always check in with students and that they can hear and understand. Pay particular attention to children who are deaf or hearing impaired. Speak with them about the situation and take their advice.
2. Use a face mask bracket
Did you even know that these exist?
Face mask brackets, are a silicon structure insert that sits on the inside of your face mask. The pear shaped bracket keeps your mask from touching your face, making it easier to breath and speak. Most brackets have small hooks to secure them onto the inside of a mask, creating a barrier between your face and your mask.
These can also be purchased for a small cost.
3. Exaggerate facial expressions and body language
Wearing a mask naturally covers half of the face. Teachers use many visual cues and facial expressions when teaching. Therefore its safe to say that half of these visual cues and expressions are being hidden by the mask! When wearing masks make sure you become more aware of upper face expressions.
Exaggeration is also helpful to communicate clearly while wearing a mask. Teachers should continue to use natural facial expressions like smiling but exaggerate eye gestures and eyebrow movements to aid communication. Make sure to use the whole body to communicate. Exaggerating hand gestures is another helpful strategy.
4. Look after your voice
One of the most important things to do is to take care of your most valuable teaching asset – YOUR VOICE. With that in mind, here’s what you can do to care for your voice.
First and foremost, stay hydrated and drink water regularly. Limit your caffeine intake as it dehydrates and can make your larynx and vocal folds dry too.
Make sure you avoid vocal extremes. That’s shouting and whispering! While it’s no surprise that shouting isn’t so great for our voice, both of these vocal extremes can cause stress to your vocal chords. There’s actually a difference between whispering and speaking quietly. It’s best explained by identifying that a whisper contains more breath. This extra breath puts pressure on your vocal folds in a more acute way than when you are just speaking in your normal voice at a low volume.
Find ways to limit speaking over noise in loud places by using non-vocal attention getters. Some ideas include: clapping, rhythms, hand signals, playing music using a whistle or a bell.
Finally, consider your whole health. As much as we’d sometimes prefer not to acknowledge, our overall health has an impact on every aspect of our physical and mental wellbeing. Our body’s ability to create voice is no different.
Fatigue, in particular, can have a significant impact on our voice. Eating a balanced diet helps to keep the mucous membranes in our throats healthy. Regular exercise increases stamina and muscle tone, which improves our posture and, in turn, improves our use of voice.
Information Sources: https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/taking-care-your-voice https://www.neamb.com/insurance/5-ways-to-protect-your-voice-in-the-classroom.htm https://www.speak-for-yourself.com/2013/02/06/how-to-save-your-voice-advice-for-professional-speakers http://www.voicecareaustralia.com.au/Voice%20Injury%20in%20Teachers.pdf