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ETSU professor providing voice tips for teachers wearing masks

As many local teachers have returned to in-person instruction in their classrooms this fall, they are learning to deal with new challenges that have arisen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A professor at East Tennessee State University is helping them navigate one important issue they are currently facing — protecting their voices while teaching and wearing a mask.
Dr. Chaya Nanjundeswaran Guntupalli, associate professor in the Department of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology in the College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences (CCRHS), is reaching out to area teachers with voice tips.
“This has been a year like no other for our teachers,” Guntupalli said. “They are already at a higher risk for vocal fatigue because of their increased voice use for their job. But now that we add a mask, it is harder for listeners to hear. Teachers in turn need to project their voice to get louder and be heard. By the end of the day, they may start to experience vocal fatigue or changes in their vocal quality.”
Vocal fatigue, which is a term people often use to describe their voice getting tired, is Guntupalli’s area of expertise. Guntupalli developed a Vocal Fatigue Index, which is a series of 19 questions to help identify whether people have vocal fatigue. Her Vocal Fatigue Index has been translated into different languages and used around the world. Last year, she received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study new approaches to treatment for vocal fatigue.
“Vocal fatigue can present itself as tiredness, a weak voice, and strain or effort to produce voice with voice use. As a consequence, people tend to avoid using their voice in both occupational and social settings,” Guntupalli said.
To help people avoid this problem while teaching and wearing masks, she developed a handout of tips that she has distributed to several local school systems. She also hosted a short video seminar on Zoom for teachers who wanted to learn more.
Guntupalli’s tips for teachers (and others) who want to avoid vocal fatigue while wearing a mask:
• Choose the right type of mask. The fit should allow for movement of your articulators and free movement of the jaw.
• Exaggerate your articulation behind the mask. Open your mouth wide and enunciate every sound with precision.
• Speak slower and pause frequently to take breaths.
• Project your voice from your mouth and diaphragm.
• Take vocal naps (short breaks for your voice). Set your teaching activities to incorporate breaks every 30 minutes to rest your voice.
• Drink water during vocal naps.
• Use other means of communication, such as gestures and writing on the board.
• Clap your hands or use a drum or bell to get the attention of the kids.
• A microphone with a portable amplifier can enhance your loudness.
• Listen to your voice. As much as your vocal symptoms bother you, it impacts the listener’s comprehension, too.