|Posted by teachcreativity on September 8, 2013 at 9:45 AM|
My latest article in "Teachers Net Gazette" (teachersnetgazette.com) shares some of my hard-earned wisdom on preventing the bane of music teachers everywhere, sore throats!
A New School Year’s Resolution: Stop Getting Sore Throats! 10 Tips
By Abigail Flesch Connors
You probably think this is a resolution you can’t keep, but you can. I’ve got tips for you that really work. Seriously. If they could work for me, they can work for anyone.
These tips aren’t meant to take the place of medical advice. I’m not a doctor. So who am I to hand out advice on sore throats? Well, I’m a teacher who’s been there. I practically lived there. Try this for a sore-throat double whammy – I’m a music teacher, so I sing for hours every day, plus I teach kindergarteners and preschoolers, which at times is roughly analogous to teaching howler monkeys in a crowded bar. I’ve been teaching for more than twenty years, and until about a year and half ago, I was plagued by laryngitis – usually one or two bouts a year. It was tremendously frustrating. Not only did I miss days of work, but I had to answer the phone sounding like Donald Duck’s grandmother. And whenever one of my kids would call from upstairs (“MOM! Where’s my SOCCER SHIRT?”;), completely forgetting that I could not shout back, I’d have to trudge up the stairs to open his or her closet door and point.
Maybe your voice problems aren’t as severe as mine were, but just about every teacher I know is prone to sore throats, especially in the fall and winter. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Over the years I’ve gathered a stockpile of tips from doctors, nurses, other teachers, and websites for singers, whose voices are their livelihood. Since the day I finally got serious about protecting my voice, and started following these rules, I haven’t had one sore throat (yes, I’m knocking on wood right now). So I’d like to share what I’ve learned – these tips really do help!
1. Remember the three W’s. Water, water, water! Drinking water all through the day is the number-one best thing you can do for your throat. Have a water bottle on your desk and take a sip every few minutes. Keep a spare bottle in the teachers’ refrigerator for emergencies. If you aren’t yet in the habit of drinking lots of water, you will be amazed at how much better your throat feels.
2. Use your indoor voice. Of course you don’t intentionally yell at your students, but there are times when you need to grab the attention of a noisy group and almost unconsciously, you raise your voice. Red alert! Every time you do this, it strains your vocal cords. Get creative and find new ways to focus children’s attention. You might try the rhythmic clapping method, where you clap out a rhythm and the class copies it. Or you could use an unusual sound – a maraca, a tambourine, or another sound that stands out from the chatter. But don’t raise your voice!
3. Beware cold air! Cold air is bracing and brisk – and your throat’s worst enemy. It dries out your throat quickly. Whenever you go out in the cold, cover your mouth with a warm scarf and try not to talk.
And a special note to football fans – show support for your home team with a pennant or a painted face, but NOT with cheering! I tend to get very excited at games - even watching them on TV – and it’s hard to keep myself from yelling encouragement (or just yelling). But at games outside, keep in mind – yelling + exposing your throat to cold air = a hoarse voice before the fourth quarter.
4. Respect your voice’s limitations. If you teach young children, you probably read a lot of stories aloud. It’s fun to include funny sounds like quacks, oinks and fire-engine sirens when you read aloud, but watch out for sounds that strain your voice. This varies from person to person. I found that when I squeaked like a mouse, although it entertained the children, it made my throat hurt for the rest of the day. Monitor your vocal sounds and how they affect your throat. Funny sounds can cause not-so-funny pain.
5. Watch out for whispering! An ear-nose-and-throat doctor told me this. It sounds counterintuitive, but whispering actually strains your vocal cords more than talking does.
When your throat is starting to feel sore, it may seem like common sense to whisper, but this actually pulls on your vocal cords and dehydrates them, making the situation even worse. If it hurts to talk, don’t talk. Write things down.
6. Swallowing a pill? Swallow lots of water, too. Whenever you take a pill, take it with water. Not just a sip or two, either - at least four or five ounces. Never take pills without water – this is very irritating to your throat.
7. Some like it hot – but you shouldn’t. Food and drinks, that is. On a cold winter day, it’s tempting to have some piping-hot soup or coffee, but let it cool down a bit. Too-hot food and drinks can be irritating to your throat. 8. If you smoke, quit. I know it’s hard, but aside from the long-term benefits, you’ll notice that your throat feels better almost immediately. I smoked for several years, and when I quit one of the first things I noticed was that my throat felt more comfortable – no more coughing and throat-clearing. (Interesting trivia fact: Most smokers try to quit four or five times before kicking the habit for good – so keep trying!)
9. Avoid the dreaded drip. I’d hoped to get through this article without mentioning post-nasal drip, but it is a major cause of sore throats. A cold, flu, allergy, or infection causes a buildup of mucus, which drips to the throat and irritates it. You can try pure saline nasal sprays to clear mucus - I’ve found these helpful. And of course, use hand sanitizers and wash hands with soap and water whenever possible. (This goes double for teachers of young children. Don’t let their cuteness fool you! They’re walking germ factories.)
10. Consistency is key. You’ve got to be diligent about taking care of your throat and protecting your voice. Even one day without water, or one freezing night cheering in the stands, can do damage and cause days of discomfort.
So if you’re prone to sore throats, you might want to give these tips a try. And I wish you a very healthy and happy school year!
About the author
Abby Connors is a teacher, author and presenter. Her latest book is “The Musical Toddler” (Whitmore Books, 2013).