Why Teachers Get Apples

There are a few symbols that best represent what teachers do. A pencil might represent learning. A book might represent knowledge. So why do teachers get apples?

Why Teachers Get Apples

Personally, I haven’t been gifted an apple yet in my career. But the symbolic gesture of giving a teacher an apple remains pervasive among school culture. For example, a Google Image search of “teacher desk” will show a few apples lying among the books, but “office desk” will not.

Why is this? Where did this tradition come from?

Bing Crosby and Connie Boswell

This tradition may have come from the Bing Crosby and Connie Boswell song “Apple for a Teacher”. Originating in 1939, this song sings of, well giving a teacher an apple. Despite the fact that the gift giver is looking for something more than just a good grade, this song may have cemented the idea that an apple for a teacher ‘seems the thing to do’. But the history of gifted apples likely goes back further than this.

Payment of the Past

Looking back about 200 year ago, teachers weren’t paid very well. No – wait – that’s today.

Looking back about 200 years ago, teachers (especially those on the frontier) were sometimes not paid at all. The tradition of apple giving may come from this time period, when small communities would often provide payment in the form of food. Other forms of payment to the local school teacher weren’t always possible.

Stretching back a few thousand years earlier, the apple could also represent knowledge. In the story of Adam and Eve, the apple is presented as the forbidden fruit, coming from the “Tree of Knowledge”. The apple could represent the knowledge that teachers pass down year after year to their students.

The Greatest Gift

Today, an apple on the desk is seen as a gesture of appreciation. But the gesture can mean more than that.

When Johnny Appleseed began planting apple orchards around the Midwest, they weren’t for eating. You see, apples originally were not great munching fruit. They were small, bitter, and didn’t always taste good. During this time period, water wasn’t always safe to drink…but hard cider was! Johnny wasn’t planting food – he was planting apples for hard cider!

So the next time a student (or colleague) puts an apple on your desk, maybe they aren’t just showing appreciation. Maybe they’re telling you to go home, kick up your feet, and pour yourself a cold one – after all, you deserve it!

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