Bookworms at Marist College have a powerful ally in Sarah Gould. They call her the book whisperer. She’s got a personal collection of 10,000 titles, and counting. There’s not a volume she can’t find.
“Generally if a student asks me if I have a book and I don’t I’ll say ‘do you really want it? Give me a week’. Then I’ll go and find it and I’ll buy it as cheaply as I can. I have my finger on every web page you can buy books from,” she says.
Sarah’s collection is so physically large it’s kept in a storage container. But 1500 choice titles are here on the Marist shelves. It was the perfect solution for the new school without a library. Sarah says eventually, the Marist buildings will be “stitched together with books” as shelves fill up within the open-plan spaces.
Sarah has been a life-long reader. “You can blame my mother,” she laughs. “Ma is an avid reader and she really fostered a love of reading in me.”
It was while Sarah was working at a Rochester primary school that she really saw the power of reading in children’s lives. “The kids loved reading but we only had a very small library,” she says. “I watched them in first semester and I knew we really needed more books for these kids. So in second semester I lugged up three car loads of tubs filled with books, and I lined them up on the long bench in the room.
“I didn’t tell them what I’d done and at first they came in, dumped their bags, and didn’t notice, then one of the kids noticed and said ‘oh my god. Wow.’ I had virtually the whole school in my room pouring over books. It was amazing. One little boy, who was a special needs child, got really worried that some of Miss Gould’s books might get stolen, so he sat with a permanent Texta and wrote my name on every single spine. From that moment on, I was buying books.”
Sarah graduated from the Bendigo campus with a Bachelor of Education, with majors in Indonesian and children’s literature, and a minor in music, in 2006. She spent the first few years of her teaching life working as a CRT and short-term contract music and Indonesian teacher. She says she had her heart set on teaching full time at a catholic school in Bendigo, and it was hard to crack.
“I know from how long it took me that it’s really hard to get into,” she says. “I floated around and applied for classroom jobs every year and the general comment was that my resume was fantastic, but I just didn’t have that full year of experience in the one classroom under my belt. I thought if I couldn’t get anything full time I’d like to go back to uni and do something that I was really interested in.”
Sarah came back to the campus to enquire about courses, and walked out enrolled in a one-year Graduate Diploma of Arts, majoring in English literature. She spent that year juggling a busy calendar of CRT shifts while studying. “I had to be really regimented,” she says. “I had 45 novels to read that year, and out of those 45 I owned three and had read two. I was reading nearly four books a week. It was insane, but I loved it.”
Sarah said it was a year of ticking off her bucket list of must-reads, including gothic, American and women’s literature.
“I found in that year at uni I got to know the lecturers a lot more. Whether it was because I was more mature I don’t know, but it wasn’t as scary to talk to them, to go into their office and have a cup of tea. I got to have some really, really good conversations with my lecturers.”
With the extra qualification under her belt, Sarah soon landed that full time job at Holy Rosary in Heathcote, where she taught for three years. And then the Marist roles were advertised. For Sarah, joining the new team here was like winning lotto.
She says she was keen to get to work under a whole new system of open-plan, collaborative classes. But it was a culture shock. “For me, I couldn’t see it working,” she says. “I thought the only way I could teach was within four walls, where there was no distractions from other groups and where you couldn’t hear another teacher’s voice.”
Plus, there was that little fact of the missing library. “But straight away I could see the amazing benefits of this way of teaching, and now I can’t understand why all schools aren’t doing this. Here, we trust the kids with their studies. Marist students can learn anywhere, anyhow and anytime.”
As for the books, Sarah can recommend a title for every reader. Her books are their tickets to the world, both real and imagined. “I think for me, a book is something you can pick up and you can travel. You can go anywhere. Narnia, Hogwarts, wars, the Prairie, the Secret Garden…”