Here’s Why People Give Teachers Apples

The story behind giving apples to teachers goes all the way back to schoolhouses on the western frontier

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Teachers, we love them! A favorite teacher can make a positive impact that changes your life forever. So it’s only natural we’d want to show up to school not only with thank-you notes for teachers, but bearing teacher gifts as well. Bringing an apple to a teacher is a common theme in teacher movies, teacher quotes and teacher memes. But why are apples the classic teacher gift?

In his 1939 hit “An Apple for the Teacher,” Bing Crosby sang of all the good fortune that gifting this shiny fruit could bring to the classroom. For example, “an apple for the teacher will always do the trick when you don’t know your lesson in arithmetic.” Similarly, the popular first-day-of-school treat will “meet with great success if you forgot to memorize the Gettysburg Address.” (For bonus points, beyond gifting an apple, learn the polite habits teachers actually dislike.)

Considering the heartwarming ways teachers go above and beyond for their students, and how teachers can change lives, an apple seems like a small price to pay. But we did have to wonder where the connection between teachers and apples came from to begin with.

Where did the apple for teachers come from?

It turns out, there are a few theories around the origin of bringing an apple for the teacher. The first stems from the biblical story of Adam and Eve. Here, the “Tree of Knowledge,” from which Eve eats the forbidden fruit, is often depicted as an apple tree. The apple, therefore, is the fruit of knowledge, making it a fitting gift for a teacher. (Beyond your multiplication tables, these are the things a teacher wants you to know.)

Another theory goes back to less formal times in schoolhouse history. On America’s western frontier, for example, “families whose children attended schools were often responsible for housing and feeding teachers,” according to the PBS show “Frontier House” and also noted in Smithsonian. In these small communities, students often helped maintain the schoolhouse as well, even coming in on Saturdays to help clean. In that tradition, bringing an apple for the teacher could be considered a sweet token of appreciation, as well as a way to keep the teacher fed. (Here are some true stories of amazing teachers.)

What are other symbols for teachers?

An apple for the teacher is the most popular symbol associated with educators, but there are some others as well:

  • Book
  • Pencil
  • Crayon
  • Ruler
  • Math symbols, like multiplication and division signs
  • Globe or map
  • Brain
  • Heart

Whichever symbolic gift you choose, it seems the connection between teachers and apples is here to stay. Whether the gift can lead to a better report card—well, we’ll let your teacher decide! Next, don’t miss these funny classroom stories and surprising uses for apples.


  • “Tree of Knowledge”
  • Smithsonian: “Why Do Students Give Teachers Apples and More from the Fruit’s Juicy Past”
  • PBS: “Frontier House, Frontier Life”