Brian Porteous teaches math at Shuksan Middle School and coaches high school girls wrestling in the Bellingham school district.
How did you get to Bellingham?
I moved to Bellingham in 1995 to work at Firwood as summer staff, and decided that I wanted to stay in town. I met my wife at Firwood, and finished my education at Western.
What do you like best about Bellingham?
The people. I know people are great everywhere, but we found a very loving, generous community of friends here. We love the setting, we love the town. Bellingham is unique in the way it blends small town and big city, mountain and ocean. It is diverse and special. You’re never short of things to do and people to see. We love the diversity.
Do you have a favorite spot to relax in Bellingham?
If I’m going by myself, I have one of a couple different spots that I like to hang out. Before noon, I’ll go to Woods at Boulevard. After noon, I’m probably going to Elizabeth Station, or sometimes I take a book and study at Kulshan. But I don’t like to go when it’s busy. I like to go in off-peak times.
So you’re embracing the coffee shop culture?
Yes and no. Sometimes my brain works a little too fast on caffeine, so I’m doing heady work then I might need a pint to slow me down.
What is your perfect Bellingham weekend?
Depends on the time of year. Right now, it’s my house. I’m so busy, I like any chance I get to let the world stop for a while—to sleep late, sip coffee, and watch college football.
At other times of the year, we get out more often. My family loves the trail on the north shore of Lake Whatcom. We like to walk and swim there.
What do people not understand about what you do?
Few people understand how little time teachers have to process anything. We’re always in communication with students. Even when I get a planning period, my list is 10 or 20 deep and I might have time for 5 things.
The time that we spend with students is the heart of what teaching should be—the relationships we build with students. But it’s exhausting. But the more time you spend with each, the more emotional investment you are making. It’s great when you see a return, but sometimes you don’t. And that can be exhausting. Now multiply that by 30 kids in each class that you’re trying to connect with, and the days just fly by.
Is there something new you’d like to see in Bellingham?
I’d take a Bass Pro Shop. A massive hunting and fishing store where I can wander through aisles of takle.
Is there a book you’ve read recently that you want to call out?
I just finished reading a series called The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson. I’ve recommended to my students and student’s parents. It’s about service and sacrifice, and I love these books. They are very emotional and draw you in deeply.
Do you have a favorite spot downtown?
I don’t hang out in downtown much. I meet buddies at Fiamma Burger every once in awhile, but Elizabeth Station is probably my favorite spot. That’s kind of downtown, right?
What keeps you out of downtown? What do we need to fix?
It’s the people. I’m around people all the time in my job—my career is 140–150 kids each day, and then at practice I’m around 20–25 athletes. In my downtime, I want to be where there aren’t people.
So downtown is too successful?
Right. That’s it exactly. [laughs]
I actually love being with people, but it’s my whole day. When I’m done I need to separate myself a little.
I used to ride the bus to work, and I loved jumping off at the downtown station which gave me just enough time to grab an Americano at 6:45 in the morning before I caught the next bus. At that hour, downtown is serene.
What are people always surprised to learn about you?
I am a bone marrow transplant survivor.
In 1999 I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder called aplastic anemia. We’d only been married for 6 months, so that came as quite a shock. I lived with that disease for a number of years before a second condition set in that caused my blood to break down and organs to start to fail.
By the numbers, I shouldn’t have made it. Was taking blood transfusions once a week so that I could continue working. It was grim. But my wife started looking for success stories for people with conditions like mine. She found a doctor in Baltimore—Dr. Robert Brodsky—who was doing some really aggressive chemotherapy and seeing success in people with the same disease as mine.
We flew out there over the spring break of 2011, and he suggested that we do a transplant. And years ago, my sister was tested as a donor and we learned that she was only a half match, which wasn’t good enough at the time. But the science has advanced to the point that they do half match transplants all the time as outpatient surgeries. That just goes to show you how much medical science has advanced.
We went back that summer and did the transplant. My sister flew in from Texas and made the donation. It was a hard process for her, and an easy one for me. My recovery could not have gone better. I was home in 2 months, and 6 months later I was off all the post-procedure medications. Then a year after that I went through all the childhood immunizations again, because the transplant wipes out all of your immunities. That was in 2011, so I’m now 5 years removed and I am completely disease free.
If you could re-enroll at Western today, what would you study?
I’m not going to be in school again for a very long time. I’m taking a big test for my secondary endorsement soon, and I’m very nervous about it. When that’s done, I’m not touching school with a ten foot pole!
However, if Western offered a Psychology of Coaching or Psychology of Sport I’d be very interested in that. UCF offers a Doctorate in Coaching Philosophy, and I’d love to study that.
Is there a special local charity or cause that you’d like to call out?
A couple, yes.
My heart has been with Team Julia for the last 5 years. They donate to cancer research and they donate to families who have been are in need. When I was sick, our family’s finances were in a hard place. I know what that need is like. Also, I benefited tremendously from advances in medical research, so I know how valuable that is. And Julia was a dear friend of ours.
Also, I’m coaching a united girls wrestling team here in Bellingham. None of the 3 high schools have enough on their own for a team, so we have an all-Bellingham team. And through that team we are creating a lot of unity between and among the high schools. We’re able to bring girls from all different parts of the city together to compete under the same banner, and that’s really unique.
It won’t last forever. Ideally all 3 schools will grow to the point that each has its own program, but for now we have an opportunity to join all of the schools and change the culture of girls wrestling and give it some traction and see growth.