KCC Faculty on Teaching
Q&A with Jason Leggett | CRIMINAL JUSTICE
How did you get into teaching?
I have been in many teaching roles in my adult life. I was briefly a substitute teacher, worked as a reading tutor for many years, and volunteered as a little league baseball coach while working as a youth & government program director with YMCA. I always knew I would be engaged in education in some way. In my third year of law school, one of my professors recommended that I teach at a community college. As a community college graduate myself, this really appealed to me. I was very interested in public legal education and civic engagement, two things Kingsborough was looking for when I applied to work here.
What career did you imagine for yourself when you were in college?
I didn’t have any idea what career I would have while in college. I was the first in my immediate family to go to college and didn’t really know what options were available. I had planned on being a baseball player until I tore my rotator cuff during my senior year of high school. I was in and out of different colleges for several years. I ran political campaigns, worked construction, worked various retail jobs, and worked as a program director for civic education. When I decided to finish my undergraduate degree, I knew I was interested in social science but didn’t know where that would lead me. I just wanted to be the best student I could be and take it from there. Early on, I remember a career advisor asked me what I wanted to do and I said archeology. After some conversation, she informed me it was not like Indiana Jones. I quickly changed my major back to liberal arts.
What do you love about teaching?
The liberating moments are what I enjoy the most. Teaching as a profession can be very restrictive: There are a lot of institutional norms and pressure from colleagues to conform to certain habits. The liberating moments tend to come through conversation. Sometimes that is in an interesting or controversial discussion in class with students. Sometimes it is one-on-one thinking about life. Sometimes it comes through collaboration with faculty who want to move beyond the status quo. Teaching opens up these spaces from time to time.
What’s your favorite teaching experience?
My favorite part of this job is when I get to watch students, or former students, share knowledge about something they are passionate about. There are many, many students I have worked with who are not confident or have been told they are not knowledgeable. Students who have experienced intersectional discrimination (race, gender, class) often share with me that they want to share knowledge about these experiences. It’s a powerful moment of transformative learning when students take these opportunities to inform other students, staff, and faculty. I think this is what we aspire to at Kingsborough when we talk about civic engagement. It’s why I wanted to work here. This approach to education is much more likely to radiate into our communities.
In what ways do you bring your professional experience into the classroom?
I was trained as a lawyer and as an activist, two professional experiences that don’t always go together neatly. As an academic, I was trained to integrate theory and practice and to speak from my lived experience as valuable knowledge. Given that our student population represents one of the most diverse populations on the planet, I think my experience has taught me how to provide a structured but inclusive environment that stresses the ability to construct individual narratives. The legal training helps me provide a malleable environment and to see a world beyond two sides, beyond the black and white. The activist experiences have taught me how to provide opportunities for collaboration and meaningful dialogue. My publications focus on these aspects and I try to measure whether this is successful by listening to what students say about the process and whether they are learning important concepts that are relevant to them. I want the knowledge we construct together to be practical and to further interests that they think are important. These topics usually involve social change and equity, but sometimes are about just being heard. All of my professional experiences have valued that unity: active listening and activity.
What advice do you have for current students?
It is a good idea to disagree with your professors. College is a very unusual space where the ideals of democracy are an expectation, especially the freedom to express your opinion and seek out knowledge. There is a lot of value to skepticism. We live in an era of “fake news” and incomplete information. It is very unlikely that any one person, whether they are a professor or not, has a monopoly on the truth. Students should push back and demand that professors explain their reasoning, provide citations, and meet the same expectations professors often ask of students. I think that to sit silently and passively – to just accept whatever information is coming at you – is a mistake. I know there are always consequences to taking a stand, which will likely harm those who already suffer intersectional discrimination the most, but colleges have historically been places where change movements have been initiated. My advice is to take the chance now. This can be a very supportive environment when people work together against injustice.