“My emotional reservoir isn’t filling as fast”. Teachers’ exhaustion 18 months post-earthquake.
For 150,000 Christchurch school students, the 12.51 pm earthquake of 22 February 2011 shattered their normal lunch time activities and thrust their teachers into the role of emergency first responders. Whether helping students (children) escape immediate danger, or identifying and managing the best strategies for keeping children safe, including provision of extended caregiving when parents were unable to return to school to retrieve their children, teachers had to manage their own fears and trauma reactions in order to appear calm and prevent further distress for the children in their care. Only then did teachers return to their families. Eighteen months later, twenty teachers from across Christchurch, were interviewed. At 12.51pm, the teachers were essentially first responders. Using their usual methods for presenting a calm and professional image, the teachers’ emotion regulation (ER) strategies for managing their immediate fears were similar to those of professional first responders, with similar potential for subsequent burnout and negative emotional effects. Teachers’ higher emotional exhaustion and burnout 18 months later, were associated with school relocation. Lower burnout was associated with more emotional awareness, ER and perceived support. Consistent with international research, teachers’ use of cognitive reappraisal (re-thinking a situation) was an effective ER strategy, but this may not prevent teachers’ emotional resources from eventually becoming depleted. Teachers fulfill an important role in supporting children’s psychosocial adjustment following a natural disaster. However, as also acknowledged in international research, we need to also focus on supporting the teachers themselves.