In the cheeky 1939 duet “An Apple for the Teacher,” Bing Crosby croons, “I got an apple for the teacher, gonna meet with great success,” only to have Connee Boswell respond, “Well it won’t — if you didn’t memorize the Gettysburg Address.”
How did the humble apple, a staple of the brown bag lunches of yore, become the choicest of gifts to bestow upon a teacher on the first day of school? History points to a number of different theories. Often, poor farmers would pay for their children’s teachers not with money, but with their abundant crops, which often included apples. At one point, teachers’ wages were so notoriously low, offering up an apple to them was solely practical: a source of wholesome nutrition the underpaid didn’t have to pinch pennies for. Once salaries reached normal heights, the tradition continued among young brown-nosers across the globe.
Of course, it’s impossible to mention the apple without recalling Eve. She supposedly couldn’t resist biting into one from the Tree of Knowledge, so what better symbol to forge a relationship with the person regaling you with wisdom than a shiny Red Delicious?
Although a polished, blemish-free apple may seem an anachronistic gift in today’s “bigger is better” world, the old-fashioned gesture oozes charm and appreciation — and, even if it doesn’t lead to a significant curve on the math test, is sure to make a positive impression on anxiety-fueled first days.