Season 1 Episode 6: Tanya Muftic

Date Published: August 24, 2020

Audio only


Tanya Muftic

Born and raised in Colorado, Tanya Muftic has made activism for education and LGBTQ students a cornerstone of her work. In 2018, Tanya published her first book of poetry, Two Souls Collided (Balboa Press), and started a community organization, TheTie Tuesday Project. The pandemic threw her into her first time being unemployed and uncertain of her future. Grappling with depression, she is trying to take time to reflect on her blessings. She hopes she can once again work in the classroom providing stability and emotional support for her students.

In Episode #6 of Everyday Heroes: A COVID-19 Podcast, we meet Tanya Muftic, a Montessori teacher and LGBTQ activist. She talks about losing her job and making all students feel welcome in her classroom


“Memories heal the living. We pray for the living.”

Angela: We recorded this episode of Everyday Heroes on May 27, 2020, two days after George Floyd died in Minneapolis. Four police officers involved in the arrest were fired, and the city's mayor said, "Being black in America should not be a death sentence." At this time, the total number of deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States was over 102,000. This is the context of our sixth episode of Everyday Heroes, a conversation with Tanya Muftic, a Montessori teacher and LGBTQ activist.

Angela: Tanya Marie Muftic, how are you today?

Tanya: I am great, thank you.

Angela: Could you go ahead and tell me what you did before the pandemic?

Tanya: There are two things that I do. The first thing is I'm a Montessori teacher, and I teach lovely nine through twelve-year-olds typically. But at this particular school, I've only been doing the equivalent of fourth and fifth grades together. And my second thing that I do is I run a nonprofit called the Tie Tuesday project. But that's, that's in the virtual land. So that has not been impacted work-wise, but my teaching job definitely was.

Angela: Can you tell me a little bit about how you've been impacted?

Tanya: It's one of those sad stories. You know, it's… I try to be positive about it, but unfortunately, I was let go from my school because of budgetary issues. And a lot of it has to do with the projections for next year, for the school districts. And then there is a decrease in available dollars. And each school was asked to let a teacher go and my name was there. And it’s never happened to me before. I’ve never been without work or without a job, or I've never not been asked back to the school. So it was a real ego killer, that’s what that was. And also just very, very terrifying to find out that I would not be secure in employment. And so the 13th of March was the day when we were all told to go and pretend like we knew how to teach online. And yeah, it was a real pretend. And then on April 3rd, I was called into my very first personnel meeting, not face to face, on this virtual platform, and just really told I would not be back next year. No good. Very sad, very hard. And the worst part of it is that my job is tied to my health insurance, and I have a very sick child who is receiving treatment. And in addition to me not being employed, I've now lost the health insurance that covers her in treatment. So it has impacted not just me but my older child.

Angela: I'm so sorry.

Tanya: Yeah, I don't know. You don't realize when you have a job and you have insurance, you don't realize that when you lose your job, you also lose your healthcare insurance. And because school districts are on hiring freezes, due to the budget and just the unknown circumstances, I don't know what the job situation is going to be next year, and the district I work for is on a hiring freeze. So I will have to ride it out. I applied for unemployment insurance for the first time in my life. I’m 56 years old, and I've never had to do that. So, I was born in the sixties, where you have to work, you have to just pick yourself up by the bootstraps. You got to get it done, you know. And there's no getting it done in the pandemic. There's no pounding the pavement or knocking on the doors. So, yeah. Rough.

Angela: Yeah. Let's take a step back, if it's okay. I'd like to hear what it was like when you had to transition from your style of education, which number one is Montessori. So that's a very freedom, loving… like let the kids be kids, you know, like they're going to learn to love learning. And then all of a sudden you're asking them to stay like right here and behave. Right? And be able to teach. What was that like?

Tanya: I don’t know. I think probably my guess is, Angela, that it was more difficult for the parents than it was for the teachers, to be completely honest with you.

Angela: I have to admit, it was super difficult, because I’m working. Right?

Tanya: Yeah. And you're trying to get there.

Angela: I hired… I’m blessed though. I was able to hire a good friend of mine to teach my kiddo. He would come and be there and just keep him on task.

Tanya: You know, it's interesting. It depends on the environment that you're teaching in. So, the school where I was teaching was more filled with families that were more economically secure, so they… And flexible. But I have friends who were teaching in inner-city schools, and there wasn't even internet access for a lot of the kids.

Angela: Right.

Tanya: So you know, for me… Oh boy, you know, when you think that when I graduated high school, the only computer that I knew about was some TI-35 and a teletype machine that hooked up to JeffCo {Jefferson County} with a roll of paper. And I'm just sure you don't know what that is. So… and then, by the time I went to college, there was a foot, a floppy disk, literally this big, the size of a record. And I wrote my thesis on something called WordStar 1.0. So, that is a really long time ago. And so when I think of what we're doing now with technology in the time since I've been at a young adult, it is mind-boggling. I think the hardest part was getting parents to help their kids get hooked up to Google Meet and Google Classroom. The parents were crying. They were literally crying on the other side of the screen, and teaching is a personal job and you get to know your families. And I saw Marines break down in tears. And that was really hard to deal with. And at the same time, I'm facing unemployment and having to be positive and, you know, put on a happy face and seeing the families out of work and all of this stuff going on.

Tanya: It has been... it has been beyond difficult, and holding the focus of the students during a Google Meet is hilarious. I have seen it all. I've seen puppies and kittens and rats. I've seen pajamas and body parts I don't want to mention. I've seen the bellies of parents as they come up behind their kid. We can all see them naked behind their child. Yes, I've seen it all. Not… Naked from the waist up, not…

Angela: Right, right.

Tanya: I've seen, you know, this. I've seen this. Aye-yi-yi. So as an adult with ADHD, it was harder for me to keep my focus.

Angela: I can imagine. I mean… come on. You have like no training for this. Right?

Tanya: Zero.

Angela: Just thrown to the wolves actually. Actually, what is it they call it, trial by fire?

Tanya: It was yes. And the districts didn't know what they were doing, and they were trying to make it equitable, and they were they were all saying that we need to do the same thing. And as a Montessori teacher, we never do the same thing because we follow the needs of the child, and we're very hands on and I'll work one on one with students, and now all of a sudden I was having to figure out how to hold the attention of students during live teaching. Not every district went to live teaching. We had live teaching, and I figured it out. And I spent… normally I would spend a couple hours every day after school grading or whatever, but I think I ended up spending nine to ten hours a day just getting prepared for 30 minutes of instruction.

Angela: Talk about Tie Tuesday.

Tanya: I spent money on developing a book of poetry. I took a trip of a lifetime to reconnect with my heritage in Bosnia and Croatia. And the third thing I did is I started the Tie Tuesday

Project, which is an organization that helps LGBTQI+ students, their families, and their educators, and the LGBTQIA+ educators negotiate this very, somewhat cruel world we're living in, and helping educators figure out how to, you know, find out what a person's pronouns are, and instead of addressing a class, girls and boys, teach them the gender neutral language that is more inclusive. And it is a national… it’s actually international. I have about 5,000 followers. Oh, 4,500, somewhere in there. And they follow me on Facebook. It's primarily a Facebook group. And I have made connections with gay and lesbian and queer and transgender people who also contribute to the education on that page. And I'm really proud of it. And I started it to just spread awareness.

Angela: Tell us… what is it?

Tanya: So it all started on… when I was teaching… Gosh, I want to say 10… a decade ago. And I had a student, and the student was really just gender-bending a bit and expressing themselves, and she would come to school dressed in what people would assume are more masculine clothing. And then students would start to say, “whatever,” and she would be tearful. What, you know, what you may not have mentioned is I'm also an openly gay teacher. But at that time I was in the closet, but I understood how that child felt. And one thing I know is you want… when students are being picked on or bullied, you want to give them social currency. And social currency comes in the form of teacher identification. So a teacher identifies with that student. And so I thought, well, I'm going to come dressed in more masculine identifying clothing. And so I grabbed a tie for my dad, and I usually wear dresses, and I put on pants and slicked my hair back and didn't say a word. And that student came to me at the end of the day and gave me a huge hug and held on and she said… I know. And she said… well, it's so emotional. She said, “Thank you Tanya. I know what you did for me.” So, it's so emotional, and I learned a really valuable lesson. And so I made a lesson out of it, literally, and I was teaching alliteration, and my name is Tanya, and I said, “Tanya wears ties on Tuesday. Tanya is terrific.” And then, “they are”, and I tried to use the pronoun they, and then that was pretty much before it was hip.

Tanya: I've heard from kids through the years, who’ve come back to me, either come out… I get a lot of former students or students in my schools coming out to me, and telling me that when they saw me do it, they knew that they can do it. So yeah.

Angela: Thank you so much.

Tanya: You're welcome. And I… there's no reason for that organization other than just to spread goodwill.

Angela: Yep. How do you think a person can stay positive or, you know, stay or rise with it, to the challenge? And what are you doing to take care of you?

Tanya: To believe that you can every day be positive and upbeat and not let life get to you, I think is unrealistic. And I would hate to set unrealistic expectations for anyone. I cry. I've cried a lot. I was a little nervous with the shortage of Kleenex. I was crying a lot and thought I might go through it. Of course, I wouldn't use toilet paper for that. You know I think… I have my wife, who's very supportive, and I'm really lucky because she has wisdom, and her wisdom, you know, fuels my wisdom. Right? That's just sharing knowledge. And I have friends, and I'm honest with my friends. “Yeah. I’m not so good.” Like I think you and I made an exchange somewhere and I said, “I'm not doing so good; this is really rough.” I don't believe in hiding pain, and I also don't need people to pity me. But I do need to have people hear me out because when you're going through something like this, you just need to say it out loud. And I will say, I am not a very faith-filled person. But as of late, I have really dug into some of my roots and connected with a lot of my friends who are pastors. I'm Muslim-Christian, by childhood. So I come from a really strange background already, but I've connected with imams and pastors and really done a lot of soul searching, literally, to figure out how… why this happened. Why did it happen to me, why did it happen to my family, and why is it happening to the world? And the only wisdom I can say is “there's no answer,” that there's no answer because there's not a why. It is. It just is. This is just the circumstance. And so I get up every day, and I just try to move forward… some days not so easy.

Angela: What is next for you?

Tanya: Well, I'm trying to interview, during a pandemic, and I am… My gift is my charisma, and I don't know if the camera captures that. I do know that when I walk into a room that people can see I'm warm and open and honest. You know? I think I've been told when you have your hands open like that, and can see your fingers, that you're an open and honest person. So the body language that I have says that, and then when you're reduced to a little picture on a screen, you hope that (a) the technology is working and (b) the people can visualize you. The other thing is: I'm six feet tall, which is really impressive. And so, that can be a negative and a positive. And so I'm in my job interviews, I'm trying to be large in my heart, gentle in my ways, thoughtful in my presence, and I'm trying to get a job. That's what's next. So yes, I am. And aye-yi-yi. It's looking pretty slammed, but you know what, I just go… I got an interview today, and I'm preparing for it, and I'll just show up, and I want it to be a good fit.

Angela: Yeah.

Tanya: I want to, really preferably, work with areas of equity. So I'm looking more in Brighton and urban Denver areas, where there are students who need a leg up.

Angela: Yeah.

Tanya: And, and that's my goal. But you know what, at this point, a paycheck is great. So I'll work anywhere right now. I’m not picky. I just want to teach.

Angela: Oh, gosh! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

Tanya: You are so welcome.

Credits EVERYDAY HEROES: A COVID-19 Podcast. Featuring Angela Rothermel and guest. Produced by Michael T. Starks. Editing Services by Brian Torres, Irlend Productions Independent, LLC. All Images and Footage used with Permission & Licensing, Provided by Adobe Stock and "Say a Prayer for the Living" Music, Lyrics & Performed by Michael T. Starks. Special Thanks to Karilyn T. Starks. Ionogen Media, LLC Copyright 2020. All Rights Reserved.