10 Ways Reading Fiction Makes You a Better Teacher

You don’t need a reason, but here are 10!

10 Ways Reading Fiction Makes You a Better Teacher

Teachers own the summer—and hopefully a boatload of literary fiction, too. It turns out that reading—especially fiction—lights up our brains. It also improves our ability to socialize, empathize, relax, solve problems, and more.

These skills improve a teacher’s effectiveness and can even help maintain a sense of calm during the school year. So long live the summer—and buy yourself a new book to read during your vacation. After all, you’re pretty much becoming a better teacher while you’re lounging around reading. 

Need another excuse? Here are 10. 

1. Reading fiction improves your ability to empathize.

The entire experience of reading fiction puts you, the reader, into someone else’s shoes. Reading fiction gets you emotionally invested in the world the character inhabits. It also exercises a teacher’s ability to empathize and have more success seeing the world from a student’s perspective.

2. Reading improves your prosocial behavior.  

Fictional stories are filled with great role models, and their actions influence and stick with us. Not only does this inspire you to do more helpful and kind things for your students and peers, it also gives you a library of positive role models and examples to share with your class.

3. Reading hones your social skills.  

The journal Science published a study revealing that subjects performed better on tests measuring social perception and emotional intelligence after reading excerpts of literary fiction. Researchers think this is because fiction often “depicts emotional subtleties and nuances, prompting readers to make inferences about the characters.” This skill can then be used in real-life social situations, like during parent-teacher conferences or when deciphering classroom dynamics.

4. Reading enhances Theory of Mind ability.

Theory of Mind, a crucial social skill, is the ability to interpret one’s own mental state and that of another and understand that each person has their own unique motives and perspectives. Fictional stories give readers a deep look into others’ thoughts and motives, strengthening Theory of Mind ability every step of the way. Having a greater ability to understand your students’ perspectives and what motivates them gives you greater insight on the most effective way to reach and teach them.

5. Reading grows your vocabulary.  

The website testyourvocab.com analyzed millions of its test takers and determined that reading—especially reading fiction—builds a bigger vocabulary. The results of the study were interesting. “That fiction reading would increase vocabulary size more than just non-fiction was one of our hypotheses—it makes sense, after all, considering that fiction tends to use a greater variety of words than non-fiction does. However, we hadn’t expected its effect to be this prominent.” By growing your own vocabulary, your students will also be learning a wider range of words. Way to be an example! 

6. Reading fiction improves your problem-solving and creative-thinking skills.

Our brains get emotionally invested in the fictional stories we read, almost as if we were living the experience ourselves. And fiction, with its endless scenarios, environments, challenges, characters, and possibilities, repeatedly shows people overcoming hardships and obstacles in everyday and incredible ways.

Reading opens your mind to the idea that anything is possible. And in turn, you pass on that attitude to those around you. It also helps you find out-of-the-box ways of addressing classroom issues, like nonstop flossing (yes, the dance) or a student’s disinterest in algebra.

7. Reading fiction gives your brain a much-needed, almost meditation-like break.

After 180 days of teaching and shaping a room full of kids, every teacher’s brain needs a solid dose of zen. Reach for a good read to find some inner peace.

The New Yorker reports that reading “puts our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.” What teacher couldn’t benefit from all those things?

8. Reading fiction helps you adapt to change and be open to new ideas.

Just think of how many curriculum changes the typical teacher sees, not to mention the number of times a teacher has to switch grade levels or instructional philosophies over time. Best practices in education are fluid, and adapting is a must in teaching. Want to get better at dealing with change? Keep your bookshelves stocked with fiction, a genre that builds stories around change and new approaches.

9. Reading helps you sleep better. 

A good night’s sleep is a dream come true, whether or not school is in session. Catch up on your Zs this summer by snuggling up with a good work of fiction. Research at the University of Sussex demonstrates that reading is an ideal way to overcome stress. During one study, participants’ heart rates slowed, and the tension in their muscles eased by 68 percent within six minutes of silent reading.

Psychologists believe people who read fiction regularly sleep better because their brain stays fixed in the present moment of the story they’re reading and can disengage from life’s stressors. So practice now because you know you’re going to need it when school is back in session. 

10. Fiction readers tend to be happier. 

Quick Reads polled over 4,000 adults and found that those who read at least 30 minutes a week were 20 percent more likely to feel greater life satisfaction and 18 percent were more likely to report high self-esteem. And, as reported by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, there’s a correlation between happiness and academic success among K–12 students. The study found that “students often reported that happiness, or positive feelings, promotes learning.” So, read on and get happy—then watch it spread throughout your classroom.

Come share what you’re reading in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE groupon Facebook. 

Plus, it’s not too late to join our reading challenge

10 Ways Reading Fiction Makes You a Better Teacher

Posted by Elizabeth Russell

I'm a freelance writer and mom to two (usually) awesome kiddos. Raised by a teacher and married to a principal, all things education have a special place in my heart.

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