Teachers have an important job. Their influence goes far beyond the classroom, and the knowledge and wisdom they impart to their students often stay with them for a lifetime.
While teaching is a tremendously rewarding vocation, it is not without its challenges - unmotivated students, loads of paperwork, keeping up with the expectations of parents…
Another challenge that is often forgotten, is poor classroom acoustics. Teachers don’t always realise what impact a noisy environment can have on their health and quality of life, and many may argue that classroom noise is to be expected and just part of the job.
The problem of poor acoustics in classrooms is not expected to go away anytime soon. Open-plan classrooms are on the rise in Australia, and while these spaces have undeniable advantages for students’ social development and teamwork, they tend to be noisy. It is notoriously difficult to create acoustic comfort in these spaces.
- Also read our blog “Open-plan classrooms are popular, but what about the noise?”
It is easy to understand that a noisy environment can make it more difficult for teachers to do their job, but there are some very real health risks in teaching in a noisy environment that are often underestimated.
- Vocal fatigue
Teachers who work in noisy classrooms have to constantly raise their voices to be heard over other sounds. A 2016 study has found that female teachers face a significantly higher risk and are twice as likely to develop vocal problems. Teaching in a noisy environment can lead to vocal fatigue and, over time, even the growth of nodes and polyps in the vocal chords. While voice therapy can help, more severe cases may require surgery.
- Hearing loss
Several studies have indicated that teachers are often at a higher than average risk of developing hearing problems during their lifetime. The amount of hearing loss depends on a variety of factors, including the age of the students and the nature of the activities in the classroom. According to a recent study , 71 per cent of the pre-school teachers surveyed, reported sound-induced auditory fatigue after a day of work, making them unable to listen to the radio, for example.
- Increased blood pressure
There have been numerous studies into the effect of noise on the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system of the body. The findings included that noise exposure increases the systolic and diastolic blood pressure and changes to the heart rate. Over time these symptoms can lead to more serious cardio-vascular disease. 1
- Mental health issues
There is no reported evidence that noise exposure can cause mental illness, but several studies in adults have found that noise annoyance relates to an increase in reported psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression. Chronic exposure to noise has also been linked to increased stress symptoms.
Quality of life
When considering these health risks, it is probably no surprise that poor acoustics is one of the main reasons why teachers experience low job satisfaction and leave the profession.
A 2011 study by the Danish National Research Centre for the Working Environment (NFA) found that that teachers who work in schools with poor acoustics were less happy in their jobs than their counterparts in schools with a better acoustical environment.
The researchers asked teachers questions about how poor acoustics affected their quality of life, in particular job satisfaction, energy levels and an interest in leaving their profession. A significant number of the respondents indicated low job satisfaction, lack of energy after work, and interest in leaving the job.
The wish to change jobs was six times stronger for teachers who taught in classrooms with a long reverberation time, compared to their colleagues in other schools.
Noise exposure was also associated with lack of motivation and sleepiness.
What can be done?
Fortunately we don’t have to lose all our good teachers because of poor acoustics in classrooms. Acoustics should be part of the planning right of any new build right from the start, but when this is not possible there are several retrofit options that can be considered to improve the situation.
- Siniat also offers the free Reverberation Time Calculator to find the recommended reverberation time as per AS/NZS 2107: 2016 and estimate the Reverberation Time (RT60, RT or T) of a room.