I thought my students wrote ‘What does the fox say?’
I started teaching high school students in the fall of 2013 and I was very uncool. My hobbies included long distance running, reading John Steinbeck books and talking too much about them and growing heirloom vegetables. If you think those things are cool, then I have news for you: you are not cool.
When I first started getting to know the meatballs that were my 15 and 16 year old students, I set out to build positive, healthy relationships with them that were based on respect and scholarly curiosity. Youtube? Minecraft? Nay, I would not feign an interest in these plebeian pursuits in an attempt to forge a shallow connection with a pimply faced fourteen year old! Instead, I tried to enlighten them with book talks, stimulating math mind teasers and by sharing my love of the Dixon Ticonderoga pencil with them.
But then the hike happened.
Around October of that year, our school took a field trip to a nearby mountain for a hike. I hiked with a group of a dozen students and another teacher. When we headed down the mountain, some of the aforementioned meatballs were struggling to keep up with the more fleet-footed of our pack. I agreed to stay behind and travel at a slower pace with them — maybe thinking it would be an opportunity to preach the gospel of heirloom tomatoes and help them identify trees using the field guide in my pack.
The handful of students I was with seemed to be moving in half time. I wasn’t getting very far with any conversations, so it was also painfully quiet. And hot. And sweaty.
Then out of the blue, one of my students quietly started singing, “Dog goes woof, cat goes meow…”
Several seconds later, another student continued on with, “Bird goes tweet and mouse goes squeak…”
At the time, my daughter was three years old, so I thought I was hearing some pretty boilerplate board book text. Out on a hiking trail. Sung by teenage boys. Strange, but a welcome break.
The two boys went back and forth, continuing, “Cow goes moo, frog goes croak…” and eventually, they landed on the lyric, “What does the fox say?”
Recall my previous statement: I was not cool. I had no idea that they were singing a song from a viral youtube video that had already racked up millions upon millions of views. What I did have was a Master’s Degree in Environmental Studies and an undergraduate degree in Animal Science. And in all of my coursework, I had never thought about the particular question that they were asking!
So I stopped them and told them that they had asked a really good question. I talked for a few minutes about the different purposes of animal vocalizations, and about the evolution of the epiglottis, and maybe about human language development as well. I talked about foxes, their habitat and how they are related to dogs. Talk about a teachable moment! I was really killing it! Then finally, I asked if they had made up this little song all on their own.
Of course, in unison, they answered ‘Yes!’
Delighted at their creativity, and how this new energy and topic was making the hike go more quickly, I asked if they had made up an ending to their song.
Equally delighted, in unison, they replied, “Ring-ding-ding-ding-ding-dinger-ding…ring ding-ding-ding-ding-dinger-ding…a ring ding-ding-ding-ding-dinger-ding.”
This had me doubled over laughing, which only encouraged them to keep singing. Before I knew it, we were back at the bus. Once everyone had boarded, I stood up and announced to the bus that these two creative, wonderful and funny students had made up a song on the hike down and I asked them to sing it for everyone else.
I was a little confused when the entire bus burst into song and seemed to already know every lyric — even some of their great dance moves.
Finally, another student who must have pitied her poor, uncool teacher got out her phone and showed me the video of this weird but popular song. I sank deep into my brown vinyl seat with embarrassment.
Then I went on to hear students sing little snippets of that song to me for the rest of the year as good natured little reminders about just how uncool I was.
I can say though, that I did take a lesson from the experience. I have gotten a lot more cool. Although I’ve never seen the show, I do try to ‘Keep up with the Kardashian’s’, and I know all about Miley Cyrus’s divorce. I’m crazy about that Lizzo song and I have a pretty sick rap playlist that I listen to when I work out. I struggle to keep track of which youtubers are in and which are out, but I can at least name one or two.
Does this mean I’m shallow? Am I pandering to the youths in an attempt to gain their favor? I don’t care. I still love tomatoes and old books, but as it turns out, pop culture is pretty fun to learn about too!
If you haven’t seen it or it’s been a while, relive the magic of 2013: What does the fox say?