We welcomed to The Teacher’s Lounge Dr. Lisa Joyner, chair of the Christian Education Department at Veritas Baptist College and Online College, a ministry of Faith Baptist Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Lisa specializes in special education, having helped multiple schools build out their special education program and developing the special education degree programs for Veritas. Lisa is passionate about helping Christian schools expand their offerings and services to kids with special needs and develop a well rounded experience for all students.

She shares her interesting story and wants to encourage every educator to lean into supporting all students, regardless of their individual needs. She’s been married to Oscar for over 36 years, and she just married off her youngest the weekend after Thanksgiving. You’ll find part one of this podcast below, or you can listen to it here.

Michael Arnold: You and I met for the first time just about a month or so ago through a friend. And you were sharing your story and your passion for special education. That’s something that I’m also interested in, although I don’t have a lot of experience. It’s just more of a belief that as faith-based educators, we have to be mindful of all students, every person in our sphere of influence, winning them for the kingdom and expanding the kingdom of God.

When I first had the opportunity to talk with you and hear your passion and your story, I wanted other people to know you and hear about your work. So it’s so great to have you with us today. Tell us first, before we get into your story, about Veritas Baptist College and your work there, if you don’t mind.

Lisa Joyner: Sure. I love talking about Veritas. I’ve been working with them full time now since 2017. They’ve been around much longer. They’ve been around, like we said, for 40 years. We started out as a small ministry college at Faith Baptist Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia, started by Dr. Forrester, a ministry college for young men and women going into the ministry. Then they expanded and did something very interesting back many years ago before it was really a thing to do online courses: they set up these satellite schools with the technology and different ministries around the country and even around the world so that individuals could go to their church an evening or two a week and could watch online streamed live lectures by instructors.

Then as the technology improved, around 2010 they started doing more recorded lectures and really going into that online space. And then in 2018, we switched to completely online. And so the benefit of that is that individuals can get a really good, biblically-based worldview education for ministry or education, and they don’t have to go anywhere to do it.

There are a lot of really good colleges out there, brick and mortar colleges, doing a great job, but not everybody can do that. Not everybody can pull up their family and move somewhere to get an education. And that’s where we fit that need. And it also helps us because we are able to get the best of the best instructors because they don’t have to move to us either. They can be right in the ministry where God has planted them and they continue to serve there, but they’re reaching out in their ministry to our students too.

So when I came in 2017, I began teaching these courses. I would record lectures, but the classes were small enough that I could interact with our students.They already had a really good, solid education program, at the undergrad and even the graduate level. But when I came along, because I did have the experience in special education, we added on a minor in special ed for the undergrad and a master’s in special education for the graduate level and they just recently started the doctorate program in education as well that I’m overseeing. Very excited about how quickly that is growing, and again, the convenience of being able to get your education and not go anywhere to do it.

Michael Arnold: Yeah. So while you’re here to talk about special education, I thought that was a great opportunity or a great way to present an opportunity to our listeners and our network pursuing graduate work, a doctorate degree. Check out Veritas Baptist College. They were online before it was cool to be online, right?

Lisa Joyner: 2020 came along, we just went right along without skipping a beat in 2020. The rest of the world didn’t know what to do. Well, we’ve already got this figured out.

Michael Arnold: You’ve already got it figured out. And even if you’re not interested in enrolling in a degree program, there are some free resources and CEU opportunities there. Do you want to share a little bit about that?

Lisa Joyner: Absolutely. What we also have through Veritas is something called Truth Matters Institute, and that is loaded with free resources. The last I heard it was over 40 courses that either are current courses or courses that have been retired, and they have uploaded all of those lectures and put that material into Truth Matters Institute. All anyone would have to do is just go online, register with your email address, give them your name and then they will unlock those resources to you. Teachers can use them to get CEUs for certification, but also like smaller ministries that want to use them for the Bible courses, for example, for Bible study groups or small groups, there are Bible courses, there are missions courses, music courses, education courses.

And that is all completely free. That is just a ministry that we want to put out there to be a help to other ministries around the country and the world, because they are used internationally as well, too.

Michael Arnold: That is phenomenal. What a great resource. And it’s hard to beat free and to get this information from a ministry college that’s been in the business for as long as Veritas has been is just a great opportunity. So thanks for sharing that as well. What is the website for Veritas Baptist?

Lisa Joyner: It’s vbc.edu.

Michael Arnold: Let’s talk about your story a little bit. Going all the way back to when you didn’t want to be an educator. That wasn’t your plan. God had different ideas. Tell us that and how God just works things out the way that He sees fit.

God Works Things Out the Way He Sees Fit

Lisa Joyner: He does. I did not want to be a teacher and I don’t know why I didn’t want to be a teacher because I had good teachers. But I had “bigger plans” for me. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. I went to college to get a degree in English. I wasn’t ready to go into graduate school right away because I wanted to get married, so I did that instead. Then I worked for a while as a paralegal and enjoyed that. It was fun.

But then it is interesting how God really worked on me and you know that verse, “Delight thyself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” And He planted this crazy desire in my heart to teach. And I didn’t know where it came from, but suddenly I just started thinking about teaching and thinking how cool it would be if I were to teach. But no, why would I think that? That’s nuts.

Until one day I got a phone call from a friend of mine who is the administrator of a Christian school where I was in church and he said, “Lisa, I don’t know if you’re interested in this or not, but we’ve got a position open for a history teacher.” That was my minor in college. He said, “Would you want to do that?”

Like, yeah, I did! So I did it and it was hard for a couple of years because I hadn’t had many education courses. So I had to kind of teach myself. I read a lot about education and about teaching strategies and I got really fascinated with all the different ways of teaching so that students could actually learn. I believe that a teacher is not just a presenter of information. You’re not just a lecturer. In order to teach someone something, then there needs to be an outcome. The person needs to have been taught. They need to have learned it.

So I taught English and history. Then this other desire just started to really build in me: this burden I had for my students who were struggling and I didn’t know why they were struggling. I was teaching everything the same way and I was using the same resources and I was staying up late at night preparing, doing all these crazy strategies to help them learn and remember.

And yet some of them would be really successful and others not, so I would work with them after class, and I had middle schoolers who couldn’t read, and they had been in our school since kindergarten. So I worked with them on reading strategies. I think what did it for me one year was a girl– a sweet girl in high school, and her mother was a teacher there too, and she just struggled. She worked so, so hard and yet it was just passing a test. So Chemistry was just murder for her. So I worked with her, and Lord knows I am no good at Chemistry. We both struggled through Chemistry. And I helped her to be able to get through that. But that’s when I remember coming home and I told my husband, “I need to go back to school. I need another degree. I need to find out what I can do better to help these students.”

So I went back to college and I got a master’s in special education. And right after that, the Lord moved us to North Carolina. I didn’t know why I was getting this degree. I’m like, And now you’re moving me Lord. What is going on here? My husband’s job moved us, so we came here to Raleigh, North Carolina. And to make a long story short and to show what God had done, we came to the church where we had decided that we were going to join at that time, and then where our children were going to go to school, and we met with the pastor. When he asked about my education and what I did, and I told him, “Well, I’ve been a regular educator, you know, for 10 years, but I just finished up a master’s in special education.”

He said, “Wow. We’ve been praying that God would send somebody here who had a degree in special education who could help us to start something at our church and at our school for kids with special needs.” They weren’t ready for me yet because that was June of 2006, and they already had all the positions filled at that point.

So I taught in the public school for a year and then transitioned over in 2007 to the Christian school there and helped them to build the learning center there. We called it the Specialized Learning Center, and we started with about 10 kids, I think. Tried to keep it small because my philosophy is when you’re starting something new like this, especially this, start small. Work with the kids you already have because they’ll forgive you if you make the mistakes and you’re going to make mistakes when you’re just starting something like this. And then grow slowly and organically.

I told our administrator, “We’ll start this, but don’t you dare tell anybody. Do not advertise that we’re doing this because if you build it, they will come.” And so we started it small and then it grew quickly. Qver the next few years, we tried to manage the growth, and after a few years, it was running 70 to 75 students a year in a school of only 350 or less. It’s still a thriving ministry.

In 2017 I transitioned here to Veritas because I knew that then I had some health issues. I’d had cancer a couple times, and so it was time to do something a little less physically strenuous than that every day back-and-forth to school. So I transitioned to Veritas because I knew God wanted me to be able to use what I had learned to help other schools to do the same thing in a similar model.

So the school where I was, like I said, continues to thrive. They’ve got great leadership. They’re excellent teachers who have really picked up the torch and are carrying it and have just taken that program. It’s called Friendship Christian School in Raleigh. And they are doing just an amazing job with kids of all abilities– kids with ADHD, learning disabilities, Autism. They have even gone beyond and instead of just having a program where they offer assistance and extra tutoring or resource classes for kids with learning disabilities, they also have a really good thriving program for kids with deeper disabilities like cognitive disabilities, down’s syndrome, and intellectual disabilities. And so it’s a lot of fun to go back there and visit and see those kids and see how they’re just thriving.

Michael Arnold: Let’s talk about the process for building that out. When we were talking earlier, you described that year that you were in the public school is maybe like a year of Exodus, so to speak. That’s not where you wanted to be, but you knew it was a placeholder, but how even that brought some value when you think about how working with special needs in public school versus a private school is handled. Do you want to expound on that a little bit?

Special Needs in Public v. Private School

Lisa Joyner: I can’t say I enjoyed every moment of working in the public school, but I needed to be there. And I grew as a result. I absolutely needed to be there because it gave me understanding that I didn’t have before. My experience was only Christian school from K through 12, and then I went to Christian colleges after that.
So I’d read about public school, but I didn’t have any authentic understanding of it. So I learned a lot of things. I learned a lot of things that they do that are good and profitable. And then I also learned that there were some things that involvea lot of red tape, a lot of paperwork.

My frustration in the public school was that there is so much paperwork, so much oversight of the IEPs, that most of my time was tied up with that. And I didn’t have time to really develop good lessons and work with kids. I was also very surprised at the minimal access that I had to resources. When I taught Christian school I would get a stack of books, all the curriculum and it’s good stuff. When I went to the public school, I expected that same thing. I had a completely bare room. There was nothing in there, and another teacher that I shared a room with had no books and I thought, Well, surely this is an oversight.

And so I went to the office and I asked for my curriculum and they said, “What do you mean?”

I said, “Um, you know, teachers’ books, the books you want me to use to teach the kids. I’m a special ed teacher. I’m going to be teaching reading and math.”

They said, “Oh, I don’t know.” So they sent me to the administrator of the school.

And so I went in there, I said, “I’m looking for my curriculum. It’s not in there. Just wondering where I go to find it.”

She said, “What do you mean?”

I thought, What in the world? And so I realized I got nothing, absolutely nothing. They gave me a page that had half a page of typed course descriptions. That was it. That’s all I got. And so I had to scour the building and I went to the stores and I bought all my own stuff. I even smuggled in some Christian school curriculum for teaching reading. Don’t tell anybody, but I brought that stuff in and I was so very careful because I would get observed as a new teacher in the public school with a new license for North Carolina.

So I had, I think, eight observations and five of them at least were unscheduled. They just pop in. And so I would be sitting on the stool in front of the kids going over these phonics cards for eighth graders who couldn’t read. I had bought some phonics cards from a Christian publisher, and I’d be going through those cards, and there’s a in pray, ch in church, shun in missionary. So when I would see out of the corner of my eye, one of the supervisors coming in to observe, I would quickly double up on those cards and slip them in the back and just skip them and just go to all the secular ones. I got rave reviews.

They’re like, “Wow, it is really good material that you’re using. That’s good stuff.” What do you know?

Michael Arnold: That’s fascinating. So contrast that, though, with going to Friendship Christian in 2007 after that year in public school. And this is at a school who has a heart, a vision for special education, but they need to build out their program. How did that contrast with your experience in public school? How did that feel moving it over to a private school who’s trying to develop a program?

Contrast Between Private and Public School

Lisa Joyner: Well, I have to be careful, Michael, that I don’t generalize too much, because my one year of experience in one school doesn’t necessarily transfer to all, but from other experiences that I’ve had, knowing students who have come to us from other schools, and then in the research that I have done, they talk a really good game about all the resources that they have.

However, they’re just really not as extensive as you would think, but I will give them this point, and that is that the public schools do accept kids with special needs. They’ve been doing that since the early 70s. And the Christian schools, unfortunately, are far behind them on that. Shame on us for being so far behind on that. But the resources that they have are really no better. And I find that Christian school teachers are surprised when I tell them that. Of course you should accept kids who have special needs because you can probably, on your worst day, do better by those kids than they would get on their best day in a public school. That’s not slamming the teachers because there are some excellent teachers there and I thank God that there are some good godly Christians who are teachers in the public school. That’s a ministry that I’m thankful for because if you can’t afford Christian education, then what a blessing for you to realize that your child’s teacher is a Christian.

Michael Arnold: But there is a misconception, I think, among faith-based schools, still to this day, that students with special needs are better served by the public school. Let’s send them there because they’re better served, and you’re saying that has not been your experience.

Lisa Joyner: Not at all. And I was so disappointed in me as an educator when I taught there that year because I knew I was not able to give those kids my best as a teacher because I had to do so much behavior management there. This pendulum swings back and forth in public education more than it does in Christian education.

I think Christian schools are more guilty of getting on one path and never, ever diverting or doing anything differently. Public schools, it’s the other extreme and it’s the flavor of the day and they swing back and forth. Even as early as 2005 when I was getting my master’s degree in Virginia Beach, they would divide up the kids. They were grouped by disability. And so we had one classroom that we called AU and that was for kids who had Autism and they had a teacher in there who specialized in Autism, and then they had the LD rooms, and those were kids who had learning disabilities and probably ADHD went in there too. And then they had another room for BD, for the behavioral disabilities. And so, if you’re naughty, you know, and you had the behavioral disability, you were in there. That changed shortly after that, and instead, they mixed them all up into one resource room.

And that’s what I see as being not very efficient at all, because you might have some sweet kids in there with some learning disabilities, but you throw in one that has an oppositional defiance disability, and it just completely changes the dynamic of the classroom. And that is what I was dealing with on a daily basis. I was used to being really good at classroom management. Kids would come into my class and I’d spend the first couple weeks really making sure that the rules and procedures were in place. Everybody knew what to expect out of everybody else. We developed this rapport and it just went along very easily.

I found that in the public school, I didn’t know what I was doing and I had to really go right back to my books and back to some resources to figure out what I could do. And my problem was that I would establish some form of classroom management and predictability in the classroom and then one new student would come. It was a revolving door. Students were coming and going all the time, not like what we’re used to where they come in August and they stay till May. Instead, it was they move in and they come here. Just new students in and out all the time and you’ve got to start all over again.

The dynamic has changed, especially if you have a child who has an oppositional defiance disorder. They’re going to come in and they want to establish their kingdom and their reign in your classroom. And so you have to do that all over again. So it was really tough. I will say probably middle school and high school is where it’s really the hardest. Resources are more available on those lower levels in the kindergarten, first and second and third grade than what they are in the middle and the high school.

So Christian school teachers need to realize that they don’t need to be intimidated and think that they don’t have the resources and the ability to teach a child who has a disability, especially one with a mild disability like a learning disability or a mild autism. They’re good teachers. They can figure it out.

Michael Arnold: Yeah. That is valuable insight from your perspective as a lot of faith-based educators have bought into that idea that we just can’t. So removing that milestone, you moved to Friendship the next year. What was it like, even though you had the backing of the leadership of the school, to develop that from the ground up?

Developing a Program from the Ground Up

Lisa Joyner: I was fortunate in that I did have the complete support of the pastor of the church and the administrators of the school. So they wanted me to do it. I know a lot of educators who have been in my position did not have that and it was a constant pushing. I didn’t have to do that. Instead it was very welcomed by the administration. It was welcomed by the families and most of the teachers welcomed it as well. Almost everywhere you go in a Christian school setting, if they’re not used to doing that and having their doors open to kids with disabilities, fear of the unknown can make them not quite as accepting of that. I will say though we were really well supported.

We first sent a letter to the parents and we said, “We have Lisa Joyner here. She’s got experience in special education. And it’s our heart and our desire to be able to meet the needs of all the students that we have here who have a learning disability or have ADHD or have some other form of a learning disability. If you have interest in that, or if you think your child could benefit from that kind of a resource, then contact us.” And so when they did, then I was able to start building a list there. Then we also reached out to all the teachers and asked them which students in their classrooms they either knew or suspected as having a learning disability.

I also went through the cumulative folders of those students and then looked to see if there was already any documentation that had been done to demonstrate that they had a diagnosed learning disability or ADHD. And if they did not, then I could reach back out to the parents to say, “The help that we’re going to give is only available to students who have a diagnosed learning disability, and so if you would like us to explore this further, then we’re going to help you to go to the professionals, whether it’s a doctor for an ADHD diagnosis, or a licensed psychologist to have testing done to determine if it’s a learning disability.” But we made that a criteria to be in our program, there had to be a documentation of a need for it. So that was how we got the start.

The school board was completely in support of what we were doing as well, and then other people began to find out about it and became very generous. And so we asked for what we needed. Something that I learned from a colleague of mine, Christy, who came a few years later and worked with us is just ask and you shall receive.  I was always very, very shy about asking. I would ask for boxes of tissues and Clorox wipes and erasers and markers. She would say we need ipads. We need noise canceling headphones. We need write-on whiteboard tables. They cost $350 each. Here’s a link. And you know what? We got it all. Every single bit. And I have passed that advice on to other educators and I have seen God do the very same thing.

Join us next week for part 2 of this podcast!

Photo by Adam Winger on Unsplash

Lisa Joyner is the Education Chair and Ed.D. Program Director of Veritas Baptist College, a completely online Bible college that exists to equip Christians for ministry in churches, schools, and the mission field. In 2017, she helped the college develop both a graduate and an undergraduate degree program in special education to help Christian schools expand their ministries to include children with special needs. She teaches several of the general education and special education courses from her home in North Carolina. Previously, Dr. Joyner taught middle and high school English and history in a Christian school until the Lord burdened her heart for children with special needs. In 2007, she developed the Specialized Learning Center as part of a Christian school in Raleigh to meet the needs of children with learning disabilities. She continues to be involved in assisting Christian schools around the country expand their understanding of special needs so they can provide quality Christian education to students who learn differently. She has been married to Oscar Joyner for 36 years. They have two grown children, Brennen (and his wife Claire) and Kayla (and her husband Lewis).