There is a sharp spring wind rattling the window panes of Epinay school in Jarrow, South Tyneside, but the attention of the eight children in the class is firmly fixed on their teacher, Deborah Wilson. Up on the board is a cartoon of two boys discussing a girl they both like, with speech bubbles floating above their heads. Wilson is explaining to the children how the speech bubbles contain “self-talk” – the thoughts and conversations that go on in our heads. She is explaining how pessimistic thoughts can become self-fulfilling, while optimistic thoughts have more constructive outcomes. She encourages the children to challenge the negative thoughts, look for an alternative way of thinking, and be sure to put the situation into perspective.
It sounds much like common sense, and some would argue that it is a waste of precious timetable space. But Wilson believes that she has seen two-thirds of her class benefit from the programme she has been teaching to her year 7 pupils since the beginning of the year. “I’ve seen a change in the children,” she says. “We’ve got a culture of pessimism, and a lot of the problems today are because a lot of parents are like overgrown children. What I’m teaching is what the wise man of the community might be doing.”
What brought the issue into sharp focus for Wilson was her realisation on a recent trip to a school in South Africa that while the children in South Tyneside were considerable better off materially, the children in South Africa seemed happier.
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