SALT LAKE CITY — It is one of the hardest lessons to prepare for as a school. What happens when teachers quit in big numbers? One Salt Lake school found a way to stop the bleeding and keep educators from walking out the door.
Northwest Middle School math teacher Mario Murillo likes to give one on one attention to each of his students, stopping by their desks to explain how they're "going to keep track of negatives right here."
It's tough to get the math to add up in Murillo's pre-algebra class. But his eighth-grade students seem to be getting the concepts.
Northwest had to deal with a challenging math problem as a school after the 2015 school year. That's when 17 teachers quit, or about 40 percent of the staff.
"I think there's a lot more to teaching than some realize, and it's really hard," said Keslie Green who is a teacher and a mentor at the school.
According to the Utah State Office of Education, 42 percent of new teachers quit in Utah within five years of starting their first job in the profession. At Northwest, teachers said they left because they weren't building good relationships with their students and didn't get the support they needed from the district or the school.
"We've got to provide almost daily support for some of these people that are coming into the building," said Dallin Miller who is a teacher, mentor and Northwest's librarian.
"There was this promise here that was actually fulfilled of making sure that we had the support that we needed as new teachers," said Nathan Tanner, another teacher at the school.
A stronger support network has helped Northwest turn things around in less than two years.
"Giving them feedback and supporting them every school day throughout the whole year," Green said about the school's "Strong Start" program.
Fresh out of college, Tanner was pretty nervous when he replaced one of the 17 teachers who left Northwest.
"It's very different from student teaching when you actually have your own classroom and you're the only adult in the room," Tanner said.
Now, almost halfway through his second year at the head of the classroom, Tanner is feeling successful because he knows where to turn for help.
"I have complete confidence in going to almost any teacher in the building and getting great suggestions for how to handle difficult problems," Tanner said.
Mentors sit in on classes and offer immediate feedback and advice. It's all part of a formula for teacher retention that seems to be working at Northwest. This spring, only three teachers decided not to return.
Murillo transferred into Northwest this year after teaching four years in Arizona. He wanted to teach at a Title 1 school like Northwest with a culturally and economically diverse student body.
"Every kid comes with a unique story, so you've got to take the time to get to know them," Murillo said.
Miller suggests another approach Northwest takes to encourage new teachers to stay in the classroom.
"In our school, we always say get through the first year and you'll see what our kids can do, you'll find happiness in the kids," Miller said.
These relationships were hard to foster when mentor Miller started at the school. Now, they're an important part of what's bringing Northwest back to full strength.
"We feel successful, we've had a lot of good teachers stay. And they're learning. They understand it's challenging," Miller said.
Tanner has no thoughts of leaving. In fact, he says, "I love being here at Northwest. I have a hard time imagining myself going anywhere else now."
Another important part of Northwest's "Strong Start" program begins in the summer when new teachers go through a sort of boot camp playing the role of students in each other's classrooms. It's a realistic glimpse into life as a full-time teacher before the real students show up.