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How I Get By: Four Days as an IRL Teacher During COVID

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The inside line on life on the job.

Jenna, a third grade public school teacher in Brooklyn, New York, didn’t want to believe schools were reopening this fall. After joining her union’s progressive caucus in its push for a teacher’s strike, and anxiously watching COVID numbers in her area, the 33-year-old (who asked to withhold her real name for fear of retaliation from her employer) was sure that something, anything, would stop the return to the classroom. But Jenna was wrong. The first week of October, she met the students she’d briefly taught over Zoom in September for the first time in person.

“I’ve just been so angry that we’re coming back in person, because I don’t feel like it’s safe,” she said. “I feel like we’ve been abandoned by our leadership; at the state level, at the city level, and, obviously, at the federal level.”

Jenna’s school used to have a dual language program, and around 600 students. Now, that dual language element has been shuttered for the year, and she says fewer than 200 students total have elected to return for two days of in-person learning a week. (The rest opted for fully remote learning.) “Part of me is resentful that schools are open,” she said. “At times, I even feel anger at the families that have chosen to have their kids come in person, if they have the resources to keep them at home because, frankly, I feel like I’m at really high risk of getting COVID.”

Nonetheless, Jenna said she has savored connecting with her students, and is trying her best to balance her own peace of mind with creating a learning environment that even remotely measures up to the typical elementary school experience. Here’s how she made the first four days of her school year work.

It’s June—oh my God, I just said June!—it’s September 29, 2020, the first day of in-person school. Obviously, I’m pretty fried. I just can’t believe how many questions I still had unanswered going in today. As of the day before, I was emailing my administration to ask them some really simple things like, Can I pass out papers? Can kids hand me something? I still don’t know these basic COVID protocols.

It felt really weird to be starting like this. And then it was also a rainy day, which is something you never want on the first day of school. I got to school this morning, and I just felt my stomach churning. It felt like the adrenaline of the usual first day of school, but mixed with dread. I was trying to set things up, but everything just felt so last-minute.

Then I went downstairs and it was so eerie, and almost dystopian, to see the scene down on the schoolyard. On a regular first day of school, you’re walking down, you see your kids from last year, they mob you to hug you and say hi, you’re chatting with parents, it’s incredibly social, it’s incredibly high energy. And this was… I found out there are only 74 students total, in the whole building. And the kids were just sitting on these little spray-painted leaves that were distanced (but not six feet apart), getting their temperature checks and showing their health screenings before they could come in. The sky was gray; it was just so creepy.

Even though I was way less prepared than usual, it ended up being fine… partially because I only had four kids. Normally, class sizes for my grade can be up to 32 or 35, and I typically have between 22 and 25 students. Today, I was supposed to have seven, and only four showed up, so that made everything a little more loose and relaxed.

I said hi to my kids, and it was interesting, having already met them virtually. They just felt very quiet, just kind of staring into space. That was when I started to feel something that I felt on and off throughout the whole day, which was sadness. This isn’t how school should feel. It feels so unnatural to tell kids to stay so far apart, to have the masks on, to be seated at one table the whole day, to never come to the rug and never play any sort of cooperative games with movement. I feel really sad that the kids are missing out on that.

But, part of me felt weirdly satisfied that it was so different from normal school, because I think that some people had delusions, including our chancellor, about what school would actually feel like once it opens.

Within a minute of getting them up out of the line and walking, they were less than six feet apart. It felt like any sort of illusion of social distancing was out of the out the window pretty much immediately. I had a kid whose mask kept slipping down. I heard that in younger grades, there were just masks that didn’t fit. We have the windows open. Kids would run up to try to help me, which is a very sweet instinct, but of course, it meant that they were in my space, and I was in theirs.

I even have one who I thought the whole time during virtual learning that the sound on her computer didn’t work. But now that I’ve met her in person, I think she just is one of the quietest children I’ve ever met. It was impossible to hear her unless I got about a foot and a half away. Basically, I had to make a choice about actually keeping my distance and this child not participating at all, or getting close. I ultimately ended up getting pretty close and just trying to turn my head away. I don’t know if I will regret that decision.

I tried to give them a lot of movement breaks, because they’re truly just sitting at desks facing forward the entire time. We played Simon Says and Red Light, Green Light standing in place. The kids had lunch, and I set up these plastic shields around them that we got from our parents’ association—of course, some schools with less affluent families would not be able to do that. I think they provide more of an illusion of safety than anything, because obviously air particles can float above a plastic shield. But it did make me feel a little better. While they ate, I did a read-aloud.

After lunch, I had the kids do a little bit of writing, but I couldn’t see it because I would be getting too close. In terms of checking their work, or having any gauge of what they’re doing, without them having to share publicly, I’m really not sure how that’s gonna work.

It was so weird that they never got a chance to just converse freely or to play freely the entire day. But I also understand that that’s just not possible. Overall, the kids were great, really sweet. I asked them at the end of the day what the hardest part was, and their favorite part, and they said they liked having school in person, and that the hardest part was keeping the social distance, which I agree with. It was tough for all of us.

Right now, work is weird. Want to talk about life on the clock, personal finance, and what it takes to do your job? Email katie.way@vice.com with the subject line ‘How I Get By’ and someone will reply ASAP.

I treated myself to some yarn after school yesterday, because I’ve gotten into weaving. And when I was getting the yarn, I got a text from my boyfriend who I live with, and he just said, “You did it, congratulations, I can’t wait for you to get home and I can give you a squeeze!” which was just really nice. A few weeks ago, he was urging me to get a fake doctor’s note and medical accommodation to stay home, and I was really worried that he wouldn’t have a lot of sympathy for all my stress around being in the building. But it was nice to see we’ve both just accepted it a little bit, for better or worse, and I really appreciated his support.

Today I’m feeling a lot more energized, because we didn’t have kids in the building. Our school applied for an alternative plan through the Department of Education (DOE). A lot of other schools’ plans were rejected, but ours was conservative enough that it got accepted: The A Group of in-person students comes Monday and Tuesday, the B Group comes Thursday, Friday, and all the kids are at home taking virtual classes on Wednesday.

Initially, all teachers working in person still had to come into the building every day, but last Friday, the union made a new agreement. Starting next week, I should be able to work from home on Wednesdays, which is nice. It’s one less day in the building, even though I think I’m more likely to get COVID from the children than surfaces. I felt much more relaxed knowing that I wasn’t going to have to be interacting with other human organisms in the same room.

I had a nice morning meeting with my kids, just on Zoom. We’ve gotten pretty used to Zoom calls at this point, since we did a week and a half of remote learning before they came in. Today we navigated some new technology: A kid shared their screen and drew a picture and we had to guess what it was. It was cool that that worked out—I try to notice the small victories. For the rest of the morning, I did a little bit of social studies, we talked about the continents, and then I did small breakout groups.

For the small groups, I was not teaching a lesson, I was really just helping them log on to an online math pre-assessment. It involved approximately five or six different steps, clicking on different tabs, opening different apps. Some kids didn’t show up to the breakout rooms; a few kids did everything right but then they got an error message anyway—I suspect because they are on an iPad which was issued by the DOE. There are huge tech issues that we’re still navigating. When those things come up, it actually makes me a little grateful to be in-person. Worst case scenario in the classroom, I can literally print out the assessment and hand it to them.

For lunch, a teacher friend brought me a salad and we ate outside. I’m trying to just be outside of the classroom as much as possible, and that was really nice, to get some sun. I put up a few more desk shields today. Tomorrow, I’m going to have nine kids, as opposed to four. I think in order to fit all the desks we’ll need, the students will probably have to sit five and a half feet apart. So that should be even more challenging to keep them away from me and each other.

After school, I just briefly met virtually with two fifth grade teachers. They have two of my former students who are Spanish dominant, and are still really just learning English, so we were chatting about how to support those students with technology. Those students are fully remote, so they’ve had trouble even logging in so far. I’m gonna probably meet with those students tomorrow, and maybe also make a tutorial in Spanish to help them out. I’m really happy that these teachers reached out to me! They told me they’ve been translating all the assignments, which is like way above and beyond, to try to help these kids get connected.

When I woke up this morning, I was in the middle of a nightmare where I had 30 kids, which is 19 or 20 more than I have right now, and they were all high school aged. I’m terrified of high schoolers. In the dream, they refused to keep their masks on and they kept coming really close to me. It was very, very stressful.

Today, I met my second group of kids, Group B. There were nine of them and they were all actually here. They work great, and they really did their best. But once again, it just became clear that if any of them have COVID, I’m going to get it. They kept running up to hand me things, ask me questions. When they’re in a line, somebody is always getting too close, or they’re in a mask that’s too big so it keeps falling down—it’s a tricky balance, because I don’t want them to feel called out. So I’m gesturing at them, tapping my mask to pull it up, but also trying to smile with my eyes so they don’t feel embarrassed or like they’re in trouble.

I was noticing today how social distancing and all these protocols really force us to do the opposite of what we know is good teaching. In good teaching, teachers speak less and kids speak more, they’re talking to each other, they’re collaborating, they’re building on each other’s ideas. But right now in my classroom, everyone facing is forward, and even though I’m encouraging kids to share, they truly can’t hear each other.

Ideally, anytime they’re working independently, I do a circuit around the room and look at everyone’s notebooks and take notes, to figure out what to do with small groups, what interventions kids need, etc. But because that would require me to get way closer than six feet from them, it feels like the only time they hear from kids is if they choose to speak in front of the whole class. The kids who do that are usually either very extroverted or very advanced in school and super confident. It just feels like a choice between instruction and safety, and I’m starting to compromise the safety.

It’s an internal conflict, for sure. I’m also talking a lot more than I wish I was, because the kids can’t hear each other and there’s so much to explain with all these new rules, so my throat hurts and I feel so tired today compared to yesterday, when I was teaching from home.

I will say there are certain plus sides. The small class sizes are a dream. Each student gave a ton today, and I’m getting to know them a lot better than I’d normally be able to do. And because I can’t do as much for them—I can’t pass things out, I can’t clean up their messes or open up their lunches, or put their little plastic sheet on the desk—it forces me to give up some control, and forces them to step up and be more independent, which is great.

But it’s just crazy to think that whatever effort I’m putting into making my classroom a warm and friendly place will likely get negated at some point or will totally change. [_Editor’s note: Certain non-essential businesses and institutions, including public schools,_ are being shut down across Brooklyn and Queens thanks to rising COVID-19 infection rates.]

This definitely goes to show that it’s not just classroom management that makes you so exhausted. There’s just something about being with children and trying to express yourself behind a mask and talking a ton, and also being constantly aware of maintaining six feet of distance. I am so much more tired than I was last week when we were just teaching remotely.

As we finish up our first week, I’m actually not as exhausted as I expected to be today. This is the first time I’ve had kids for a second day in a row, and it feels like they’re already starting to get the hang of social distancing when we walk around in line. I overheard another teacher calling it “zombie arms,” where you kind of stick your arms straight out in front of you, and you shouldn’t be able to touch the person in front of you. I stole that, and it’s been helpful.

They’re also getting a little quicker with the routines in the classroom… but at the same time, they’re also getting a lot more comfortable taking off their masks. They would take it off, drink water, and kind of leave it off and forget, or get up to throw away their trash from lunch and forget to pull it back up… so that’s a little stressful. They’re jumping out of their seats more, and I’m just realizing, like, I’m gonna have to crack down the way I’m afraid to.

I don’t want to be that authoritative teacher, I don’t want to be strict in that way. I want a classroom where kids can move freely. But, with COVID guidelines, that’s not really recommended. Once again, it’s a tension between best practices and developmentally appropriate rules.

I had a kid sneezing today, which is the first time I’ve had to consider, ‘Oh, do I send them to the nurse’? I think a couple sniffles does not qualify, but if she’d been coughing, I guess I would have. But it’s pretty confusing: In the nurse’s office, we have one isolation room and a backup. It fits a total of like three kids on a given day, but there’s about 75 to 150 kids in the building. As soon as cold season starts, that’s gonna be filled. And I don’t really understand what we’re supposed to do, especially because it’s very common that kids come to school with a cold.

We got behind in the schedule at the beginning of the day, and then we had a chunk of time that was kind of unstructured. Normally, that’s my worst fear, but this year I’ve been really trying to have better boundaries about how much work I do in my free time. I’m forcing myself to not read over a lesson plan a million times before I teach it and I’m not planning for every eventuality, because I don’t want to lose my mind trying to do this perfect job when I know things could change really quickly at any time. It’s been really good for me, and I think it’s actually good for the kids. We had this extra time because I hadn’t planned a super full day, and because of that, we were able to have some interesting, spontaneous conversations.

I ended up having lunch out in the garden, which is right next to where my students were having PE. It was so cute, because they had literally seen me 10 minutes before, but when they saw me sitting out there, I got a bunch of waves and enthusiasm. And that’s just something you don’t experience when you’re teaching remotely. I started just feeling like, I could handle this.

And then, right after school, I get a text from my friend who’s also the chapter leader for our union. It was sent to the folks on staff who were really organizing around striking before schools reopened. It was a study that the New York Times came out with talking about how the way the DOE is doing testing and tracing will most likely miss big outbreaks. She texted that article and just wrote, “People are going to die.” And, you know, she’s probably right. That was very sobering.

That’s just the tension I’ve been feeling all week. I’m trying to make the best of the situation, trying to focus on the positive, trying to be positive for the kids. And then at the same time, hearing the news and feeling really freaked out about being in a building with children in close quarters, and also feeling like, no matter the good and bad parts of what’s happening right now, it’s probably going to change.

Follow Katie Way onTwitter.

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Luis Arce presumed winner of Bolivia presidential election

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Jubilation and disappointment took over the streets of Bolivia on Monday, after unofficial counts showed Evo Morales’s party sweeping the country’s presidential election without the need for a second round of voting.

After 11 months of political turmoil that bitterly divided the nation, two independent surveys late on Sunday showed Luis Arce, the candidate for Morales’s Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party, with more than 50 percent of the vote – well above the second place centrist rival Carlos Mesa, who had slightly over 30 percent, and far more than the requirements to avoid a runoff.

“The result is overwhelming and clear,” Mesa said in a concession speech on Monday. “The difference is wide.”

“It is up to us, those who believe in democracy, to recognise the result,” he said.

Carlos Mesa ahead of a news conference during which he conceded in La Paz, Bolivia [Manuel Claure/Reuters]

On Monday the official count had reached nearly 23 percent of votes cast, with official results expected in several days, but candidates said that given the wide winning margin, the final count is unlikely to show a meaningful difference.

Observers said the results showed a clear rejection of the right-wing policies of the interim government of Jeanine Anez, a conservative senator who took office after Morales was ousted from power a year ago. Late on Sunday, Anez conceded and congratulated the winners.

“We still have no official count, but according to the data we have, Mr [Luis] Arce and Mr [David] Choquehuanca [his running mate] have won the election,” Anez wrote in a tweet late on Sunday.

“I congratulate the winners and I ask them to govern with Bolivia and democracy in mind.”

Arce, meanwhile, called for calm in the polarised nation, and vowed to form a government of national unity.

“We have recovered democracy and hope,” Arce said in a speech early on Monday. “We are going to govern for all Bolivians and construct a government of national unity,” he said.

Presidential candidate Luis Arce of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party speaking during a press conference in La Paz, Bolivia [Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters]

Punishment vote

Analysts say the election outcome is chastening for the country’s right wing, and will likely boost the image of Morales, whose shadow still looms large over the country, despite him living in exile in Argentina since his narrow win in last year’s election was annulled amid bloody protests and allegations of fraud.

Morales and his supporters say he was the victim of an orchestrated coup.

“This was a punishment vote,” said Raul Penaranda, a journalist and political analyst based in La Paz.

“Those who abandoned the MAS last year were thinking ‘if this is the alternative, then no, we prefer what we had before,’” Penaranda said.

Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous leader, was an iconic, popular figure during his 14 years as president. But he angered many Bolivians after insisting on running for a fourth term in office, in defiance of a referendum against extending term limits. His administration was also marred by allegations of corruption and overreach of power.

Anez, who declared herself interim president promising swift new elections, sought to consolidate her grip on power and announced her own bid for the presidency, after initially saying she did not plan to run.

Jeanine Anez voting at a polling station in Beni, Bolivia [Courtesy of Bolivian Presidency/Handout via Reuters]

She brought trumped-up terrorism charges against Morales, and clamped down on MAS officials and supporters – prompting allegations of human rights violations by rights groups, and further fuelling polarisation in the country.

Her administration has also been accused of corruption and mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic – a disease that has killed at least 8,481 people in Bolivia.

She dropped out of the race last month.

“The government has been very repressive, and for a lot of people there is now a sense of relief,” said Thomas Becker, a human rights attorney with the University Network for Human Rights, who was part of a group of academic observers who travelled to Bolivia.

“The MAS overwhelmingly won, but a lot of it was not necessarily a vote for a candidate but a vote against racism, repression and violence,” Becker told Al Jazeera from La Paz.

A member of the jury shows a marked ballot during vote counting at a school during the presidential election in La Paz, Bolivia [Manuel Claure/Reuters]

Sunday’s vote marks an important turning point for Bolivia, instilling a renewed faith in democracy in the South American nation, said Jorge Derpic, assistant professor in sociology, Latin American and Caribbean studies at the University of Georgia.

“This victory shows even in conditions of disadvantage for the MAS, for the majority of people who were clearly against this government, there is a possibility to produce change through the ballot,” Derpic told Al Jazeera.

“This is a return to the path of democracy, of respect for democratic results, this is something to celebrate in general,” he said.

People lining up to cast their votes at a polling station during the presidential election, in Cohoni, Bolivia [Wara Vargas/Reuters]

Strong, important leader

In a news conference in Argentina, Morales said the new government would “return our country on the path of economic, political and social development”.

Arce, who served as economics minister under Morales for more than a decade, oversaw policies that led to a surge in growth and a sharp reduction in poverty. Now, amid a pandemic that twice delayed the election, he is likely to face an uphill battle trying to reignite that growth.

The World Bank forecasts that Bolivia’s economy, largely led by farming and gas, will contract by about six percent this year.

“Economic recovery is going to be fairly slow,” said Eduardo Gamarra, professor of political science at Florida International University.

“Bolivia has a stagnant economy and exports are flat,” Gamarra said, adding that the country may turn to exporting its lithium deposits, which will take time.

Former Bolivian President Evo Morales speaking at a news conference, a day after Bolivians voted in the presidential election, in Buenos Aires, Argentina [Agustin Marcarian/Reuters]

During the news conference in Argentina, Morales said that he intends to return to Bolivia, “sooner or later” and that the charges against him were “part of a dirty war”.

“It’s a matter of time. My great wish is to return to Bolivia,” Morales said, noting that his intention is to settle in his home city of Cochabamba to become a “farmer and small producer”.

The result could further deepen divisions within Bolivian society, which cut along lines of race and class, Penaranda said. Morales is a polarising figure. Those who were hoping the MAS would be soundly defeated in this election are saddened and shocked by the results, while those who were hoping the MAS would return, are jubilant and relieved, Penaranda explained.

The results give MAS majority control in the Senate, as well as in the Chamber of Deputies – ample power to govern and pass legislation.

“We have to recognise the figure of Evo Morales as a very important leader of our recent history, and he will remain so,” Penaranda said, “and although his popularity suffered a bit during his third term in office, he continues to remain strong and he is a motor of the MAS, clearly.”

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The US is plagued by long voting lines. Here’s how other countries do it better.

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As voters from Ohio to North Carolina to Georgia wait in long lines for hours to cast their early vote for president, onlookers abroad were left scratching their heads. That’s because in most other advanced democracies, long lines like these just don’t happen.

Canadians said they spent more time standing at bus stops than they do standing in line to vote, while Australians noted lines for their voting-day “democracy sausage” are longer than for the ballot box.

America’s long lines aren’t necessarily a surprise. Increased enthusiasm to vote early, especially among Democrats who want President Donald Trump removed from office, have swollen queues. Enhanced safety and cleaning protocols due to the pandemic, mixed with fewer and less-experienced poll workers, have caused delays. And voter suppression, from a dearth of official voting sites to dried-up resources in districts with large minority populations, has made it harder to cast a ballot this year.

Still, the multi-hour wait times show the US has a lot of work to do to make it easier for Americans to vote. In 2014, a presidential commission said no one should have to stand in line for more than half an hour, stating that “any wait time that exceeds this half-hour standard is an indication that something is amiss and that corrective measures should be deployed.”

Some of those measures could come from abroad, experts say. Countries like Canada and France have national voting standards that take voting-day decisions away from local partisans. Australia allows citizens to vote at any polling station in their area, not just one designated site. And Estonia, believe it or not, votes entirely online.

Adopting some of these practices might shorten voting lines in America and make it easier for everyone to cast a ballot, said David Daley of the pro-reform advocacy group FairVote. But the problem, he said, is that “we have been unwilling to look around the world to see who does it more efficiently and more fairly than we do.”

Here are some ways other countries handle their national elections, and what the US could learn from them.

Have national election standards like Canada

The suggestion I heard most often from experts is that the US should have one single set of rules for how to administer elections in every state and territory.

“The US is unique in how decentralized our system is,” Ashley Quarcoo, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC, told me. “We have approximately 10,500 jurisdictions administering elections. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does create challenges for ensuring electoral consistency, even service delivery, and a consistent — and ideally positive — experience for voters across the country.”

What’s more, local rules make it possible for the secretary of state — not the nation’s top diplomat, but a state’s lead official for voting — to stand for office while running the election. That’s led to controversies in Georgia and Kansas, with allegations swirling that both secretaries abused their power while simultaneously standing for another office.

In other words, the current American system increases the chances of corruption and a poorly run election. Having a federalized system — one where voting rules are the same across the country — could help fix that.

The US could look just over its northern border to Canada for inspiration. The country has a federal election system, which means that the voting process is the same from Halifax to Vancouver and difficulties are minimized (though there are still some related to voter ID).

One major reason it works so well is that Elections Canada, the government agency tasked with running national elections, is a nonpartisan, independent body. It can do its work without being tainted by partisan political concerns. The agency “is responsible for ensuring that election officers are politically neutral and non-partisan in all aspects of their work,” according to its website.

However, some experts are skeptical the US could have such an agency.

Staffan Darnolf, senior global adviser at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, said central election authorities usually work well in countries that have them, but few nations have as divided a system as America’s. Instead, he proposes that each state’s most senior election administrator be a non-partisan election-administration professional.

“That’s a reform that could have a positive impact,” he told me.

Increase polling station options like Australia

In the US, a voter is typically required to cast their ballot at a specific location on Election Day. That’s not the case in Australia.

“You can vote at any polling place in your state or territory on election day,” reads the Australian Electoral Commission’s website. “Polling places are usually located at local schools, churches and community halls, or public buildings.”

And in case someone is traveling on Election Day, that person has another option at their disposal. “If on election day you are outside the state or territory where you are enrolled, you will need to vote at an interstate voting centre,” the website adds.

Put together, Australia makes it really, really easy for someone to vote by increasing the number of places they can stand in line to cast a ballot — which is a good thing since Australians are fined if they don’t vote.

Adopting this idea would make a lot of sense for the US as it would give voters the option to go elsewhere if they see a line getting too long. It also gives voters the flexibility to travel inside the country on Election Day without having to worry about being home to vote at their designated polling place (though they could alternately vote by mail).

But where Australia makes more polling sites available to voters, the US does the opposite. Last year, southern states closed around 1,200 polling sites; this year, Texas shuttered several official ballot drop-off locations.

Before America can have a conversation about providing more options to voters, it needs to first create more polling stations, period.

Vote online like in Estonia

One of the most controversial reform ideas comes from Estonia, the small Baltic nation where citizens have been able to vote for their political leaders online since 2005.

“I-voting is possible around the clock during the days of advance voting, from the 10th until the 4th day before the election day,” the country’s electoral agency says on its website, though it notes online voting isn’t allowed on Election Day.

About 64 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots online for parliamentary elections in 2011, 2015, and 2019, which means the actual in-person lines to vote on Election Day are shortened. If nearly three in five voters in America could vote for their preferred candidate from their own computers at home or work, the multi-hour waits we see now at the polls would practically vanish.

The challenge, though, is ensuring the safety and integrity of the vote. “Online voting is just a horrible, horrible idea in the United States,” said Jason Healey, a cybersecurity expert at Columbia University. “Estonia can get away with it because they’re so small and use their digital IDs for almost literally everything, so voting is just one, rare use.”

Indeed, the digital ID every Estonian has allows them to travel within the European Union, serves as a health insurance card, gives them access to their bank accounts, and much more. It’s a highly advanced, encrypted system the country works tirelessly to perfect and secure. That’s a hard thing to do, but it’s made easier when the nation’s population is only 1.3 million people.

Meanwhile, America’s population is over 250 times as big, and it’s nowhere close to having such an integrated digital system to prove everyone’s identity across nearly every facet of someone’s life. The US could invest in such a system, but it would require political will, tons of money, and time.

It doesn’t look like the US will fully go in that direction, though. It’s already dealing with election interference from the Russias and Chinas of the world, and top political leaders including Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris still tout the benefits of paper ballots over digital ones.

But if the US could find a way to make online voting secure and reliable, it could prove the greatest game changer of all.


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How to Turn Your Bedroom Back Into a Sex Zone if You’re Working From Home

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How to Turn Your Bedroom Back Into a Sex Zone if You're Working From Home

Photo by Cavan Images via Getty Images

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It’s not a set of rules—it’s a state of mind.

Whether your bedroom is your own meticulously decorated oasis or just somewhere you sleep, you might be spending a lot of extra time in it if you’re suddenly working from home, living with a partner, or living with a partner who also works from home. 

There’s nothing wrong with using your bedroom as a cozy, multipurpose eat/sleep/work area, but setting up your home office (the pile of pillows propping you up in bed) in the same place where you hope to have sex later isn’t always ideal when it comes to actually having sex later

After a long day of staring at a screen in bed or at a cluttered desk just a few feet away, switching to bone mode might not be easy. (And that’s OK! There’s a deadly pandemic going on outside, and sometimes you just need a nap.) If you do want your bedroom to also feel like a sex zone, you don’t have to resign yourself to a life of brushing crumbs of the bed before you bang (or, not all of the time, at least). Changing your mindset doesn’t require a total furniture/life overhaul, and you probably don’t have much space to install a stripper pole or a sex swing anyway. With a little planning, your bedroom will be ready to go when you are, whether you’re on your own or with someone else.  


Good lighting goes a long way, so try something softer and more natural after work.

“The first thing you should look at whenever you’re turning a space into a sexy getaway is the lighting,” said sexologist Megan Stubbs. “Consider [using] side lamps that cast softer light and shadows.” Warmer, more natural light feels more intimate, and it can also be relaxing, especially if you work in a bright room all day or usually use overhead switch lights. Turn down your dimmer switch if you have one, or drape a sheer scarf or shirt over a lamp.

As Gigi Engle, a sex coach and sexologist, said, “After staring at screens all day, the softer the lighting, the calmer you’ll be.” Engle also recommended just using candles rather than lamps, which can also add a nicer scent. No need to go full _Phantom of the Opera_—just one or two candles will do, and when you’re done, they can go in your nightstand drawer (which might help you associate them even more with sex). 

Set certain times to put away your laptop and other work stuff. 

Stow away your laptops, cords, electronics, or any work materials when you’re not using them, even if that just means tucking them under your bed for a while. “Make the space feel like a place for sex and sleep, not work and stress,” said Engle. “If possible, try to leave screens outside of the bedroom. I know this is easier said than done, but it can make a big difference in overall mood.

“Before the pandemic, I never worked in my room, so this has been a huge transition for me,” said Alison Stevenson, a writer in Los Angeles and co-creator of Thick Strip, a body-positive strip show. On performance nights, Stevenson transforms her bedroom from work space to virtual strip club. “I invested in a foldable desk that has been a huge benefit. What’s great about the desk being foldable is that at night I can put it away and my room instantly feels like just my room, with no office elements.” Try creating a designated space for your work stuff, or if you need extra storage, make it something you actually enjoy looking at. “I have a small dresser type thing reserved just for my ‘office’ supplies, but from the outside, it just looks like a vintage dresser,” Stevenson said.

Minimize clutter to help you feel less distracted in the moment—and free up more areas of the room.

“You never know what kind of ocular distress that pile of need-to-hang laundry in the corner might cause when you’re trying to get it on,” said Stubbs. “Tidy up the space so that the only things on your mind are you and your partner.” She also said that having a partner over is far from the only reason to straighten up before getting into it: A clean and comfortable space is just as important for solo time.

Once you minimize the clutter, you’ll also have more space to move around the room without getting grossed out or out of the moment, which can be useful for switching up your location. “You don’t have to always do it on the bed,” Stevenson said. “Lately, I’ve had a few sessions in front of my full-length mirror.” Consider what else yours might reflect, and whether you’ll care about that.

Stock sex essentials somewhere easy to reach.

In the name of less effort and disruption in terms of The Vibe, get your nightstand drawers in order and stock them with the things you typically like or need to have on hand during sex. Having to stop and dig around for batteries or discovering you’re out of protection can really take you out of the moment and back into the more humdrum aspects of life.

Within this, make sure you have your lube, condoms, or any other gear within easy reach. “I have a box with a variety of toys,” Stevenson said. “I make sure to have them charged, and I highly recommend having all those wires and plugs organized for easier access.”  Keeping baby wipes, tissues, or a towel in your sex drawer, shelf, or box near the bed are also essential for post-sex cleanup, or for putting down a surface layer beforehand if you think things might get messy.

Change little details, like bedding or music, to switch up the mood of the room.

Particularly if the bed is your work station by day, try changing up the sheets or bedding when you clock out. This can help differentiate between work time and sex time. “I have pink satin sheets and black satin sheets, both from Ross and under $20,” Stevenson said. “They’re soft, sexy, and a little tacky, which is just how I like it.”  

“The important thing is to pick colors that make YOU feel calm and sexy,” Engle said. And texture is key: No matter what they look like, make sure you choose fabrics that turn you on and feel good against your skin. 

You really don’t have to buy anything if you don’t want to, though. Make a go-to playlist of your favorite music that works well for hooking up—something you can put on shuffle and not worry about—for a non-visual way of instantly cueing up a different atmosphere, too.

However you use it, your sex-ready bedroom space should feel relaxed, relatively organized,  and well-stocked with the stuff that helps you get off. Just make sure you put it all away before your next video call with your boss.

Follow Sofia Barrett-Ibarría on Twitter.

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