Written by Laura Washington, TE Instructional Coach
There is an elephant in the room that many of us do not think about on a daily basis but is extremely important in the world of teaching and education. That is the importance of your VOICE. As educators, our voices are the link between our students and their auditory learning. Teachers that are new to the classroom must convey a sense of strength, urgency, confidence, and warmth all with their vocal chords. As the new school year approaches, think about the following things as you prepare yourself (and your voice) to lead your students to success.
Pitch is the unique sound that comes from the vibration of your vocal chords. It is the strongest and purest version of your voice and should be used when you want to deliver an important piece of information.
To find your natural pitch, relax your throat and simply hum. A hum that is too low or too high should feel “unnatural.” Once you have identified where the hum feels natural, practice speaking at that pitch.
Tone is the manner in which you speak and the quality of the sound that your vocal chords produce. Your tone is often formed during your childhood.
Vocal tone is something that can be adjusted to a teacher’s advantage. When wanting to convey a warmer tone, smile as you speak. For delivering expectations, a more formal tone should be used. Think of your formal tone as your “professional” tone.
Your tempo is how quickly or slowly you speak. Adjusting your tempo can be hard, but is very important when delivering new information to students. People who are thinking a lot about a given subject tend to talk faster. As teachers, it is important to slow down and make sure that your students are still with you in a lesson.
To slow yourself down, take deep breaths and use a “purposeful pause” before you deliver a key point in your lesson.
We all know people who constantly speak at a much louder volume (myself included) and others who we always have to ask to speak up. The volume at which we speak is often a result of the household that we grew up in. People who grew up in a “louder” environment with lots of siblings may tend to speak at a louder volume. It is important to adapt your volume to the situation that you are in. A quieter voice comes across as more serious and honest.
To help yourself locate an appropriate conversational volume, remember to stand up straight which will open up your lungs.
Prosody is the rhythm as your voice rises and falls. For example, our voices tend to go up higher when we are asking a question. We can also drive home a point by ending a sentence with a lower intonation.
Things to Look Out For
I know, right?
Upspeak is a commonly overused speaking pattern where all statements sound like a question due to a higher inflection at the end of sentences. (Think about the movie “Clueless”) Females are more likely to use this than males, and it can come across as “ditzy”. It can also send the wrong message to students. Consider the following sentence first as a question, and then as a statement.
“Right now, we are going to work independently and silently?”
“Right now, we are going to work independently and silently.”
Not really something that you want to pose to students as a question. To avoid this, practice lowering your inflection at the end of sentences, especially at important points in a lesson.
Vocal fry is a new phenomenon that is characterized by a vibrational or “creaky” tone. (Think Kim Kardashian) Like upspeak, using vocal fry can cause someone to sound less professional and less confident.
Want to read more about vocal tones? Here is a link to an article about young women and their linguistic tendencies.
What are some of your vocal tendencies in (or out) of the classroom? What have you done to improve your “teacher voice” in the classroom?