Social Psychology of Education

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 513–542 | Cite as

“Fear would well up and it was just a luxury that you just didn’t have time for”: teachers’ emotion regulation strategies at school during the February 2011 Christchurch Earthquake

  • Veronica M. O’TooleEmail author


This study reports a subset of findings from a larger study that examined the emotional impacts of the 22 February 2011 Christchurch earthquake on 20 teachers, who functioned as first responders when the earthquake struck in the middle of a normal school day. This qualitative study investigated the emotion regulation strategies employed by these teachers in the early moments of the earthquake in order to manage their own fears and ensure the safety of the students in their care. The study drew on the methods of Sutton (Soc Psychol Educ 7(4):379–398, 2004. doi: 10.1007/s11218-004-4229-y) where teachers retrospectively reported the emotion regulation goals and strategies used in real-life school scenarios. The Christchurch teachers’ emotion regulation goals and strategies for their peritraumatic fear in the first moments of the earthquake were in alignment with previous research. Strategies that teachers normally use to ensure they present a calm and professional image in the presence of strong negative emotion underpinned the regulation of these teachers’ fears elicited at the moment of the earthquake. Exposure to multiple episodes of trauma also appears to have elicited emotion regulatory choices similar to those of professional first responders dealing with extreme trauma on a regular basis. The teachers’ attributions and ways of reporting their experiences resonated with emotional labor and emotion work perspectives, and demonstrated their commitment to caring for their students as their priority goal.


Teachers’ emotions Emotion regulation strategies Earthquake disaster Peritraumatic fear Emotional labor 



This research was supported with funding from CEISMIC Canterbury Earthquakes Digital Archive, University of Canterbury (, (Grant No. 210). I thank Myron Friesen, Daniel O’Toole, and Research Assistants: Sarah Healey-Hughes, Alexandra McDonald, Christine Reitveld and Matt Ward. I also thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback. Most of all, I am indebted to the teachers who shared their stories.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Education, Health and Human DevelopmentUniversity of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand

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