In his 1939 hit, “An Apple for a 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.”
And while we don’t encourage bribing teachers with fruit baskets to get better grades, we did have to wonder where the connection between teachers and apples came from.
It turns out, there are a few theories. 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.
Another theory harkens 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 a PBS special, titled “Frontier House, Frontier Life,” and noted in Smithsonian. In these small towns, students often helped maintain the schoolhouse as well, even coming in on Saturdays to help clean it up. In that tradition, an apple for the teacher could be considered a sweet token of appreciation.
Whichever the case, it seems the connection between teachers and apples is here to stay. Whether or not the gift can lead to a stronger report card however—well, we’ll let your teacher decide.