Teacher Awarded £150,000 for Losing Her Voice

Harlington Community School

“Huge payout for woman injured by having to talk loudly in class.”
“Teacher awarded £150,000 for losing her voice.”

These were the headlines when English teacher Joyce Walters quit her job at the Harlington Community School run by Hillingdon Council, after developing vocal cord nodules. She says the nodules were caused by constantly raising her voice and repeating herself over the din from a nearby children’s play area.

£150,000 is a lot of money and it’s from us – the tax payers. Hillingdon Council could have saved £149,000 by investing £1000.00 in voice and speech training for Mrs Walters.

I’m currently training 5 teachers in voice and speech. Four of them are funding themselves. All of them attended a voice and speech training course as part of their PGCE but in all cases there were more than 100 on the course and the duration of the course was an afternoon or morning. This is clearly not satisfactory unless it’s followed through with extra coaching.

Everyone’s voice is a unique part of their physical and mental make-up. Small groups or 1-2-1 coaching in voice and speech is the way forward for successful training in long-term voice care. Many schools and colleges have drama teachers on their staff who’ve been trained or could be trained in voice and communication and therefore offer help in the form of advice and training to fellow teachers.

In some of the larger schools I’ve worked in as a voice coach, the only teachers on the staff who’ve not been off work with sore throats and lost voices are the Head Teacher and the Drama Teachers.
Mrs Walters says her employers did not do enough to help her and that she was asked to teach even more students. Failing to send Mrs Taylor to an ENT specialist when she was struggling with her voice is neglecting a duty of care and bad management.

The easiest way to ascertain whether or not there is a problem with a person’s vocal cords is to ask them to say an extended “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”. If there is a break or breaks in the sound, it’s an indication that the vocal cords aren’t adducting or closing and this may be due to the onset or presence of vocal fold nodules. When I’ve referred clients to our ENT specialist because I’ve suspected nodules, the sound that they have produced is usually loud (raised) and forced with over strong bursts of breath.

It’s important, that after the operation to remove nodules, that a period of complete rest of the voice is followed by voice coaching. The voice coaching involves re-education on how the voice works, how to connect to the voice and how to use the voice. This can come a surprise to people who’ve used their voice in a certain way for so long that they don’t realise there is another way of producing sound which is “released” rather than “forced”.

In the long run, receiving voice and speech coaching pays off, as it not only improves vocal communication but it also improves energy levels and general health. Of course the best option is voice and speech coaching in voice care and the use of voice as part of the personal development of teachers and lecturers.

Joyce Taylor is still awaiting assurances from Hillingdon council that something is done to prevent others suffering.