In the past year or so, I have become increasingly aware of some age-related occupational hazards that professors encounter in their mid-career years. Of course there's the usual diminishing eyesight, hearing, sanity etc., but in addition to those routine problems, several of my colleagues have recently dealt with vocal-chord damage owing to the strain of talking so much and so loud and so long, presumably during classroom lectures (and for some, faculty meetings).
One colleague has had multiple surgeries to repair his vocal chords, and another was advised not to speak loudly or in his normal tonal range for several months. Recovering from vocal chord surgery during the academic year and/or not speaking in your usual voice are both difficult to do when speaking is your job. A temporary solution for one colleague was to teach an online course for a term. Another went to a speech therapist to learn how to speak without injuring himself more.
Professors who teach are like professional singers -- our voices are our instruments. If our voices are damaged, our art (of teaching) is damaged.
The biggest strain on a professor's voice probably comes from teaching a large lecture class. I have always been jealous of my colleagues who can teach large classes 'unplugged' -- i.e., without using a microphone. I can make myself heard in a large lecture hall, but at high volume I can't modulate my voice very well and end up sounding like I am shouting rather than merely speaking loudly. I also end up even more exhausted than I normally would be after a 50-75 minute class. Therefore, I find it essential to use a wireless microphone so that I can speak comfortably in a 'normal' (albeit amplified) voice.
It turns out that what I thought of as a weakness may have actually saved me from injury through all my years of teaching.
There are probably ways to speak loudly for years without injury, but many of us don't know how to do that. Add to the list of things that new professors need to get started in their teaching career: voice coaches.
10 months ago