Diary of a Freelance Language Scholar

Many paths are open to the academically inclined, even if they don’t fit on a business card.

My work requires explanation, and I like it that way. Everything I do is somewhat related, because all of my work is with languages—usually Latin, Ancient Greek, or English. However, there is no neat category or recognizable label to describe what I do for a living.

In everyday conversation, I usually call myself an “independent classics instructor.” After all, it takes too long to say, “I teach classical languages to individuals and groups, lead Latin workshops, create curricular materials, edit language textbooks and accompanying resources, teach at the local university, and occasionally talk about classics and Shakespeare on podcasts, all while pursuing a theological Ph.D.”

The title “freelance language scholar” would also describe me accurately. In modern America, the word “scholar” often conjures up a vision of the halls of academia, but my job is a testament to the fact that the traditional, full-time-professor route is not the only way for academic types like me. True, my current path as a freelance scholar is unconventional, and was unexpected, but for me it is also unmistakably right.

An Unconventional Job

Although I am not a university professor, I teach college-level Latin and Ancient Greek to adults from around the world via live classes on Zoom. Some of my students found me through referrals, particularly from a friend of mine with a flourishing, language-focused YouTube channel.

The traditional, full-time-professor route is not the only way for academic types like me.However, most of my students come to me through the Ancient Language Institute (ALI), where I am a Latin and Greek fellow. ALI is an online school and think tank that guides students on their journey to proficiency in ancient languages. For that organization, I teach group classes and independent studies, with content ranging from introductory courses to advanced readings. Every couple of months, I lead workshops completely in Latin, covering texts by authors such as Cicero, Erasmus, Livy, Seneca, and the Venerable Bede. I also connect classics and Shakespeare as a guest on several episodes of ALI’s podcast, New Humanists.

As a language instructor, I have the opportunity to meet and teach fascinating students. My online learners join our Zoom meetings not only from the United States but from Australia, Brazil, the British Isles, China, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland, as well. These students have various occupations and reasons for learning classical languages. They include a pathologist seeking to study Greek historians, an attorney wanting to read Tacitus, a mother interested in ancient medical texts, and students taking a language for college credit. In addition, there are pastors, priests, professors, and laypeople planning to read the Greek New Testament or texts by various Christian authors. In all of these classes, I have the joy of giving students the tools for accessing great works of the past directly, without a translator’s mediation.

In addition to teaching, I wear the hats of curricular consultant and editorial consultant. I create curricular materials for ALI, including video lectures entirely in Latin. I also edit and create content for Armfield Academic Press (AAP), an independent publishing company specializing in foreign-language textbooks for beginners and self-taught students. At AAP, there are always new and engaging tasks, such as recording and/or producing media in various languages, editing an Ancient Greek textbook, testing a smartphone application that teaches Linear B, or coding a Latin e-book.

And if all that were not enough, my unconventional occupation includes a couple of more customary elements. Beginning in the fall 2023 semester, I will teach Ancient Greek as an adjunct instructor at a local university, where I look forward to training young people in person. Finally, I am continuing my own education, working on a Ph.D. in Bible exposition. Each individual part of my job description might appear typical, but the combination is unusual.

An Unexpected Path

My path differs not only from most people’s concept of an academic life, but also from my own plans, which for years involved a more traditional career in academia. Many college graduates can tell you about “the career talk”—the time when a concerned professor discusses job prospects, Ph.D. woes, and other reasons why a student might not want to choose the full-time professorial route.

I can take on new projects without checking in with an employer, because my employer is me.Personally, I remember getting the career talk several times, because I was that starry-eyed, enthusiastic student who had dreamed of becoming a college professor since childhood. I could envision no other life for myself than that of a scholar, and academia was where scholars worked. My goal was to be either an English professor with a focus on Shakespeare, or a classics professor specializing in Latin poetry (or maybe Greco-Roman biography). Then, after earning two master’s degrees—one in English, the other in classics—and receiving career talks from several caring professors in both fields, I chose another direction. I became the lead Latin teacher at a classical Christian school, where I hoped to stay for many years. I had happily moved from one traditional track to another.

However, the Covid lockdown completely altered my plans. In March of 2020, my school shifted to online learning, and I taught my classes via Zoom. That summer, it became clear that I needed to change my trajectory: Because of Covid protocols, I could not continue at the school, and I decided to strike out on my own. By September of 2020, I was teaching individual Latin and Greek students online. Shortly thereafter, friends referred me to both ALI and AAP. This path was very different from what I had planned, but it is also better than I could have imagined.

Unmistakable Joy

Granted, this kind of work is not for everyone. Since I am self-employed, I have had to figure out my own avenues for healthcare and retirement planning, and I must pay self-employment taxes. In addition, I have to deal with various administrative details like filing the proper state and federal forms for my business. And, as with many other academic professions, this one will never make me wealthy.

However, these challenges are more than offset by how much I enjoy my work and its flexibility. I can take on new projects without checking in with an employer, because my employer is, well, me. Some semesters, I may have more ALI classes or curriculum tasks. At other times, I have more AAP projects or university teaching, and that’s fine. I also can have an unusual schedule, if necessary. Many of my students are adults who have full-time jobs of their own or live in other time zones. So, classes might be early in the morning, late at night, or on Saturdays. This does not bother me, but it does differ from the normal nine-to-five, five-days-per-week job, and I am thankful I can adjust my schedule as needed.

Moreover, I can choose my instructional mode. For the last three years, I have worked almost exclusively online, which allows me to teach anywhere with internet access. Yet I have also had the freedom to create a combination of online and in-person classes as other opportunities have come.

Indeed, my work—though unusual—brings me great joy each day. This job diverges from the traditional professorial route, and it was not the track I originally mapped out for myself. But there are many satisfying academic options. Because of the ability it confers to engage with so many amazing people in various capacities and modes, the path of a freelance language scholar is the right one for me.

Katherine L. Bradshaw has an M.A. in classics from the University of Maryland and an M.A. in English from George Washington University. She is currently an online Ph.D. student at Liberty University.