Students find teacher’s photo in text book
Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor

June 1, 2006 - History became a little more interesting to sixth grade students at Yantis Independent School District this spring when they discovered a photograph of their substitute teacher among the pages of a textbook.

"She didn't want to admit it, but we knew it was her," said 12-year-old Brandon Collins, who came across the picture in the book "Our World  Today ... People, Places and Issues" while studying with his friend, James "Chris" Alderman. "We got all excited and thought she was famous."

Pearl Johnson, better known to her students as "Ms. Babs," is a native of Alaska, but marriage to an East Texas man brought her to the area. She has been substitute teaching for Yantis ISD for the past two years.

According to Johnson, she and her cousin Wilfred Anowlic answered an ad for models in 1997 sent out by Jeff Schultz, a stock photographer, and the official photographer of the Iditarod Dog Sled Race, a 1,100 mile trek  that takes place from Anchorage to Nome each year.

When Johnson and Anowlic arrived in traditional Inupiat fur clothing, they were hired on the spot, and the renowned photographer took a series of photographs on the frozen Bering Sea. The two were paid for the photo shoot and never knew what became of the pictures until 2000, when one of the photographs of Johnson and her cousin "rubbing noses" appeared on the introductory page to the city of Nome on the Alaska.com website. 

Now, six years later, that same photo has emerged in a world history textbook used by Yantis school.

"I've had others claim to see me in books and it turned out not to be me," said Johnson, who brushed off  the idea thinking it was just another look-alike. "I know that kids will look for any kind of diversion to keep from doing their work, but they insisted it was me, and, much to my delight, this time it really was."

Johnson took the opportunity to teach students, prekindergarten through sixth grade, about her Alaskan heritage by organizing a presentation of artifacts, such as the "fancy parka," worn in the photograph.

"I had all these personal belongings and they were studying Alaska, so it just seemed like the thing to do," said Johnson. 

Other items displayed were carved ivory walrus tusks, ornate figures, furs, reindeer skin boots and Ulus, which are traditional knives used for carving, skinning and cutting blubber away from whales.

"She knows a lot of stuff," said Alderman. "She's really interesting and like the best sub ever — kind of like a best friend. And she always gives us hugs."

Alderman and Collins both said that history was already one of their favorite subjects, but now even more so.

"We look at all the pictures and read all the names looking for more people we might know," Collins said. 

"I never thought  I would become a teacher," said Johnson, a former park ranger at Denali National Park. "But I just fell in love with the students, and this has only endeared me to them more. I guess the best thing that came from this is that it showed the students that you may find something wonderful when you take the time to read.

"You never know what you're going to learn or discover when you open a book."

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