Dr. Christine Stroble’s 7-Year Publishing Journey
Claire: Your book Helping Teen Moms Graduate was published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group. What can you tell us about your experience working with them?
Christine: I’ve had a wonderful experience working with Rowman & Littlefield (R&L)–specifically with Tom Koerner, Vice President/Publisher, Education. Tom went above and beyond to ensure Helping Teen Moms Graduate was published. I have had this book contract with R&L for seven years. Because of health challenges and single parenting, I just couldn’t get it together. There was even one time when I told Tom, “I can’t do it. Let’s cancel the contract.” I had not received an advance so that nothing would be lost in monetary value.
Still, Tom kept emailing me, reaching out, and encouraging me to finish Helping Teen Moms Graduate. He would not let me abandon this project. Now I am so thankful for his continued persistence and encouragement. Tom Koerner with Rowman & Littlefield is largely why Helping Teen Moms Graduate is in print.
Claire: You mention in your preface that you’ve had this book contract for seven years. How did you stay motivated to write after dealing with a serious health challenge?
Christine: I needed to stay motivated. I struggled to finish Helping Teen Moms Graduate. During the second year [of working on the book], I took one of Lisa Tener’s [self-study] courses, which was an invaluable resource. Still, as I mentioned, I could not get it together because of health challenges and single parenting.
[Five years later, I worked] with Literary Coach E. (Emily) Claudette Freeman. Claudette held me accountable. I worked with her weekly. She told me I could do it. She told me to see myself as the expert and to stop trying to be perfect. “You’ll never get the book finished,” she said. Her advice to me was, ‘Instead of perfection, let your goal be to do your best.”
In the end, that’s what I did: I did my best, and from the feedback, my best work will make a tremendous impact in helping teen moms graduate. I am proud of that.
Writing a Book Proposal
Claire: You must have had a very impressive book proposal for your publisher to be so adamant about you writing this book. Did you work with a literary agent or book coach or write your own proposal? In your opinion, what is the most crucial aspect of writing a solid book proposal?
Christine: No, I did not work with a literary agent. I wrote my own proposal. At the time, I was a professor in the School of Education at Claflin University, and as a tenure-track faculty member, you are expected to publish. I wrote the proposal during that time.
In retrospect, I think Rowman & Littlefield’s persistence was mainly because they knew there were few–if any–books that focus on helping teen moms graduate. I also knew that subconsciously because I looked back at my book proposal and wrote in it, “Currently, little data exist on the educational experiences of pregnant and parenting students.”
The whole reality of a gap in the literature sank in when I spoke with a manager at Barnes & Noble about doing a book signing. He was very receptive because he said, “You know what? There is not one book in this bookstore that speaks to that issue.” I think Rowman & Littlefield knew that too. They knew there was a gap in the literature that Helping Teen Moms Graduate would fill.
Utilizing Professional Experience in Writing a Book
Claire: You were a public school English teacher and a college professor before becoming an author. How has your experience within the public school system and higher education empowered you to devise practical strategies for helping teen moms graduate high school and continue to college?
Christine: My experience as a public school English teacher and college professor has empowered me to know what teachers are already doing in the classroom. Most teachers are already creating a safe school climate for students in their classrooms. They are already doing more than educating; they inspire students, encouraging them to overcome obstacles and finish their education.
I don’t think many teachers are aware of the myriad challenges pregnant and parenting students face as they strive to complete their education. They are unaware of the 11 educational barriers the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) identified that are pushing pregnant and parenting students out of school. The NWLC, in a series called Let Her Learn, conducted a Focus Group on Let Her Learn: Stopping School Pushout for Girls Who Are Pregnant and Parenting. Unfortunately, many teachers are not aware of this information. My purpose in writing Helping Teen Moms Graduate is to raise teachers’ and others’ consciousness.
From my experience, I know many educators do not know that Title IX applies to pregnant and parenting students. Title IX prohibits discrimination against pregnant and parenting students and guarantees them an education equal to their peers. So many educators need to learn this, and my objective is to raise their awareness.
From my classroom experience, I know it is the expectation that schools are trauma-informed. Still, I don’t think many teachers see the extent of trauma, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), a large percentage of teen moms have endured. Each teen mom has her own story, but teen moms collectively have a tale of violence and abuse. Two-thirds of teen girls who become pregnant were sexually and/or physically abused as children, in their current relationship, or both. No fewer than one-fourth and as many as 50-80% of teen girls who become pregnant are in violent and/or abusive relationships before, during, or after their teen pregnancy.
From my experience as a teacher, I know many teachers are unaware of this. I want to raise their consciousness and tell them, “As you create a safe school climate in your classroom, don’t forget about teen moms.” As you are preparing to read The Scarlett Letter, consider how that might be a trigger for an unwed pregnant teenager. Be conscious of what the pregnant and parenting student sitting in your class is facing and know how you can support her:
- Demonstrate Empathy.
- Take a trauma-informed approach.
- Consider situations in your classroom that might be a trigger for her.
The Research Process for Writing a Book
Claire: You quote numerous studies and surveys to support your arguments; what was your research process? Did you utilize any of your earlier research from your doctoral program?
Christine: At first, yes. I utilized earlier research from my doctoral program. During my postgraduate studies, I conducted a study where I interviewed ten young ladies who were current college students. They all had a teen pregnancy in high school, graduated on time, and went to college. I wanted to know what their experience was. So how did they do it?
The findings from that study revealed the way students graduated was because they had support. Support from home, support from the school, and support from community organizations. I share their stories in Helping Teen Moms Graduate. Their rich narratives are at the heart of this book, and they all contacted me about participating in my study because they wanted to do what they could to help other pregnant and parenting students graduate.
The last chapter in Helping Teen Moms Graduate is meant to be a powerhouse encouragement tool for current pregnant and parenting students. Participants from my study were asked, “If there is a teen mom who is thinking of dropping out of school, what advice would you give her?” Their words of encouragement inspire current pregnant and parenting students not to give up and to finish their education.
Claire: I love that you share many direct quotes from your interviews with pregnant and parenting students in Helping Teen Moms Graduate. It allows readers an insight into their thoughts and experience. What strategies do you use when interviewing someone on a sensitive topic or painful memory to help them feel comfortable sharing their experience?
Christine: As I’ve read their transcripts repeatedly, I feel how candid they were. They felt comfortable with me. I am African-American, as they are, which could have played a factor. I told them there were no right or wrong answers. They were eager to help other pregnant and parenting students graduate, and I just wanted to know about their experience as pregnant and parenting students. Because of that, I think they just laid it all out on the table. I will tell you that two participants broke down crying. I had to pause the interview to comfort one young mother. Clearly, they were emotionally wounded. One participant, after our interview, said, “That was good,” as if it was cathartic for her to tell her story.
It’s painful realizing the judgment, shame, and rebuke these young ladies suffered. I have cried many times reading over their quotes. Telling our story to someone safe is part of the healing process. That interview was a safe space for them to describe what happened to them, and I think it helped them just as much as it was going to help their peers.
And yes, for the interview, I used an interview protocol with primarily open-ended questions. I asked each participant the same questions, and then looked for common themes as I analyzed the data.
Book Publicity Advice
Claire: Christine, your new book, Helping Teen Moms Graduate, is an incredible resource that will make a huge difference in many young women’s lives. How do you intend to publicize your book to ensure it reaches the people you intended?
Christine: To publicize my book, Helping Teen Moms Graduate, to ensure it reaches my intended audience–educators, families, community organizations and students–I started where I had contacts. I first reached out to my alma mater, Wofford College. To support my work, and the local community, Wofford is hosting a free community-wide author event for area middle and high school students, their families, educators, and community organizations. This event will take place in March in honor of National Women’s History Month. This is an ideal time to talk about Helping Teen Moms Graduate. Light refreshments will be provided.
This is an invaluable service to the community because public middle and high schools often need 90 minutes of their school day to host an author event. Wofford is providing this space for them.
I have contacted colleges and universities to be guest lecturers, and I will continue these efforts.
Also, I will reach out to other colleges and universities to encourage them to provide the same support for their students, educators, and local community organizations.
Social media is another vehicle to reach my intended audience.
I am already a registered Presenter at the Southeast Conference on School Climate hosted by Georgia Southern University. I will continue these efforts by reaching out to local, regional, and national professional organizations for educators, administrators, and guidance counselors.
All these efforts are intended to publicize Helping Teen Moms Graduate to ensure this valuable resource reaches my intended audience.
Starting a Support Group
Claire: You also started a community-based support group, Teen Moms Anonymous. Do you have any advice for other authors interested in creating groups or communities for their readers/relating to their field of expertise?
Christine: Look for a need. Whatever your area of expertise, look for what is missing. That’s what I learned in the doctoral program at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte. As a researcher, I must know the literature in my area of focus and where the gaps are. Then my job is to fill the void. This is why I created Teen Moms Anonymous.
In addition to knowing there was a need to know about the educational experiences of teen moms, from my personal and professional experience, I knew there was a need to help teen moms heal from trauma. Our mission at Teen Moms Anonymous is to help teen moms who are trauma survivors heal so they can support their children’s healthy emotional development.
Developing an Argument
Claire: Since the audience of Helping Teen Moms Graduate is aimed at educators, family members, community members, and pregnant and parenting students, you’ve structured your book with logical arguments that challenge many negative stereotypes and claims these groups may have. For example, how did you develop your argument? What strategies for creating a solid view would you recommend for other authors challenging the status quo with their writing?
Christine: I developed my argument primarily from the lived experiences of the young mothers/college students I interviewed, then from research. I looked at what they experienced as a high school student with a child and how they graduated. I then shared that in Helping Teen Moms Graduate. So far example, Chapter 1 is Don’t Judge. That is directly from student interviews. When I asked what advice they would give teachers and administrators to help more pregnant and parenting students graduate, the resounding message was Don’t Judge.
They were judged and emotionally wounded as a result. They overcame the shame, rebuke and judgment hurled in their direction because they had support, and they had support from home–a strong female family member–their mom or grandmother. That is what Chapter 3 covers. They had support from school–from their teachers who did more than educate; they supported, encouraged, and challenged them not to let their pregnancy stop them. That is covered in Chapter 4. They had support from community-based teen parenting programs that were driven to help them succeed “by any means necessary.” That is Chapter 5.
Chapter 2 focuses on Title IX and how it applies to pregnant and parenting students. Violations of Title IX are pushing many pregnant and parenting students out of school, and I wanted to draw attention to that. This is how I developed my argument of what we can do to help teen moms graduate.
When challenging that status quo in your writing, speak the truth, but do so in love. It may be painful for some, but speak the truth. Do so in a gentle way and consider both sides. You will persuade your reader more if you are gentle and if you address their objections to your argument. Chastising readers for not doing what you think they are supposed to do will not persuade them to your side, and a strong statement considers both sides.
Writing a Second Book
Claire: You’ve written several peer-reviewed works before, but this is your first book. After successfully publishing this book, can you see yourself writing another book in the future?
Christine: Oh yes! I want to write two specific books. One is an educational book on helping children of teen moms succeed in school. Youth.Gov notes that children born to teen mothers experience a wide range of problems. They are more likely to:
- have a higher risk for low birth weight and infant mortality;
- have lower levels of emotional support and cognitive stimulation;
- have fewer skills and be less prepared to learn when they enter kindergarten;
- have behavioral problems and chronic medical conditions;
- rely more heavily on publicly funded health care;
- have higher rates of foster care placement;
- be incarcerated at some time during adolescence;
- have lower school achievement and drop out of high school;
- give birth as a teen; and
- be unemployed or underemployed as a young adult.
I want to write a book on how to buffer against the challenges children of teen moms come to school with; all the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) they have experienced, and what the school system can do to buffer against those challenges and build their resilience to help them graduate. Thus, making great strides in reducing the number of children of teen moms who drop out.
Also, Teen Moms Anonymous is a ministry for me, and I want to publish in an Inspirational market. I publish under Dr. Chris Maria, my first and middle name, in that market. I’m currently working on a book proposal for a memoir about my journey from being the child of a teen mom to starting Teen Moms Anonymous. I am looking to work with a literary agent on that project.
About Christine Stroble
Christine M. Stroble is an educator and researcher. Dr. Stroble received her Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction: Urban Education from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Her research area focuses on improving education for pregnant and parenting students, and she is the author of Helping Teen Moms Graduate: Strategies for Families, Schools, and Community Organizations. Dr. Stroble is the founder of Teen Moms Anonymous, a community-based support group program for teen moms who are trauma survivors. She lives in the Upstate of SC with her teenage son. To learn more about Dr. Stroble, you may visit her website