Students would have never guessed how God would use Shrek to strengthen my relationship with them.
The Monday before Thanksgiving, Shrek was alive and happy. His day began with a walk through the woods and around a pond that we called his swamp. Strangers always recognized how the green-cartoon ogre had inspired his name.
God’s Shrek was a happy and handsome English bulldog -- well, Shrek thought of himself as handsome anyway. His massive chest, narrow keister, and chubby-round head truly brought the cartoon ogre to life.
As God has a plan for everything, the relationship between a man and his dog is fascinating. I would have never imagined, however, that God would choose a 57-pound, white English bulldog to teach me so much about the value of patience and composed leadership.
As a former wrestler and Marine, I understood how controlled aggression, as well as an austere demeanor, could serve as an asset in certain situations. Even as a high school English teacher, those qualities proved useful when reprimanding a student lacking self-discipline or respect for authority. However, in dealing with a strong-headed English bulldog, an aggressive nature served only to exacerbate conflicts involving Shrek’s incredibly stubborn determination.
Through trial and error, I eventually discovered that a quiet and austere character could always defuse Shrek’s worst acts of defiance. But by failing to control my frustration or anger, I exposed a weakness. This little bulldog instinctively recognized my failing, and he would become embolden to behave even worse than when the confrontation began. A bulldog’s tenacity is something to admire, but it will certainly test any human being’s resolve and character.
Surprisingly, working with Shrek furthered my development as a leader and a teacher. Shrek enforced a dog’s lesson about leadership that most importantly applies to people: we do not follow someone else because we like that person; we are compelled to follow someone because we truly respect and admire him. Our conduct is what commands respect. Losing our self-control is a guaranteed way to lose the respect of those who depend on us.
When it comes to teenagers, they usually deny it, but they are yearning for leadership. They need someone to inspire them in tackling goals they ordinarily would not attempt on their own. And leaders are obligated to providing that inspiration. Shrek made me a better leader, as he required tremendous patience. He would not behave himself without a composed, confident influence. My students responded well to the same approach.
Like children, Shrek had a knack for making people laugh and grin. He had mastered this undertaking so well that he could even do it when he was asleep or behaving badly. Simply looking at Shrek’s wrinkled face, protruding teeth, and oversized-crinkled tongue made people happy. His obnoxious snoring and deep breathing were uniquely comforting, too. Most of all, his tenacious spirit would have made Winston Churchill smile.
Sadly though, Shrek died that Monday afternoon. His departure caught us off guard, as he had shown no signs of aging. Ironically, the little dog that we loved so much passed away the same day that a disgraced Michael Vick began serving time for his merciless treatment of man’s best friend.
As Shrek passed away, I held him in my arms and told him how much we loved him. He died before getting to the vet. At Thanksgiving, we remembered the treasured time Shrek had shared with us. We smiled, too, when we saw the giant, green balloon -- of the ogre who had inspired his name -- flying high in the Macy’s Day Parade. The celebration was a fitting tribute to a little spirit who had provided so much joy -- as well as trouble -- during his short, wonderful life.
The following note from a former student conveys a touching message that many of us could share with the four-legged purposes that God has given us:
Dear Mr. Culpepper, The first day I was in your class I wanted to kill you because you'd put me on the spot with a simple question; you could tell I wasn't plugged in, and you called me on it. You weren't going to settle for [my] "stoner" image, for me to just take up space in the class. I was really mad but [the confrontation] also challenged me. It made me take a hard look at myself and motivated me to prove there was more to me; you motivated me to give you my best. You also reminded me of my love for literature. You were the first teacher to confront me, to make me care, and over time you gave me a lot of self-confidence with my writing. It really made a difference in me. After completing your class, I looked at teachers differently. I began participating, got more out of classes, and was able to connect with other teachers. I want you to know that you got through to me; it will have a positive influence on me forever. Thank you! Nick
Nick’s thoughtful letter articulates the message I have for Shrek. I want him to know that he got through to me. And I know that his incredibly obstinate will was the divine influence I needed.