Voice Disorders are an Occupational Hazard for TeachersAug 12, 2021
Teachers are particularly susceptible to vocal damage due to voice misuse being an occupational hazard of the job. Statistics show that over 50% of teachers experience a voice disorder at some point during their career (Van Houtte et al. 2011), and at least 20% of those teachers have missed at least one or more days of work because of it (Duffy et al., 2004). Additionally, teachers who experience ongoing vocal damage are more likely to have to change occupations, suffering not only financially, but physically and mentally as well. There is evidence to suggest that vocal damage in teachers is also detrimental to student performance (Pennbacker & Hayes, 2008), negatively affecting their speech processing in early years, leading to educational disadvantage due to the disruption of spoken language processing (Rogerson & Dodd, 2005).
So if these issues are so numerous and well documented, why is vocal damage amongst teachers so prevalent and why isn't anyone doing anything about it?!
When I say no one is doing anything about it, I do acknowledge that there are so many amazing vocal coaches and speech pathologists out there offering services to help teachers to fix vocal damage once it has occurred, but why does it have to get to this point in the first place? Why are teachers not trained how to take care of their most important asset BEFORE they damage it? And why is the cost and burden of treatment lumped with individual teachers, when their working conditions and lack of voice training are quite clearly causing the damage?
Schools and teacher training tertiary institutions have long ignored these issues in the face of rising evidence that vocal damage is one of the most prominent occupational hazards of the profession. Many classrooms are acoustically inadequate (do not meet minimal acoustic standards for adequate learning), forcing teachers to yell in noisy conditions, often in large open-plan classrooms with poor ventilation (poor air conditions in classrooms had been linked to respiratory issues in teachers; Angelon-Gaetz et al. 2016). Student teachers spend years at university learning just about every theory of learning known to man, but ironically do not learn how to look after the one thing that enables to do their job more than any other teaching tool: their voice.
It's time for schools and teacher training institutions to step up and provide support for teachers for what is quite clearly an occupational hazard of the profession. Support in terms of educating teachers about voice care and vocal hygiene. Support in terms of providing this training to teachers BEFORE they enter the profession and damage their voices. Financial support in terms of providing access to vocal health and safety training as part of teachers' professional development hours, and not forcing them to shoulder the costs of expensive speech therapy treatments and devastating surgeries that should so obviously be claimable through work cover. Support in terms of allowing a safe and supportive environment in which teachers who need support can ask for it, and receive help and time off when needed without fear of stigma. Support in terms of installing amplification in classrooms so teachers don't need to abuse their voices in order to do their jobs. This kind of support needs to be the norm, accessible for every teacher across the country, not just the exception, accessed by the elite few.
It's time to support our teachers.
It is time to shift the paradigm.
Angelon-Gaetz, K. A., Richardon, D. B., Marshall, S. W., & Hernandez, M. L. (2016). Exploration of the effects of classroom humidity levels on teachers' respiratory symptoms. Int Arch Occup Environ Health, vol.89, no.5, pp.729-737.
Duffy, Orla M., and Hazlett, Diane E. (2004). The impact of preventive voice care programs for training teachers: A longitudinal study. Journal of Voice, vol.18, no.1, pp. 63-70. Science Direct. https://www-sciencedirect-com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/science/article/pii/S0892199703000882?via%3Dihub
Van Houtte, E., Claeys, S., Wuyts, F., and Van Lierde., K. (2011). The impact of voice disorders among teachers: Vocal complaints, treatment-seeking behaviour, knowledge of vocal care, and voice-related absenteeism. Journal of Voice, vol.25, no.5, pp. 570-575.
Pannbacker, M., & Hayes, S. (2008). Treatment for teachers with voice disorders: An evidence-based review. EBP Briefs, vol.2, no.6, pp. 1-13. Pearson.
Williams, N. R. (2003) Occupational groups at risk of voice disorders: a review of the literature. Occupational Medicine, vol.53, no.7, pp. 456-460. https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqg113
Rogerson, J., & Dodd, B. (2005). Is there an effect of dysphonic teachers’ voices on children’s processing of spoken language? Journal of Voice, 19(1), 47–60.
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