That Darn Apple on a Stack of Books

The Christmas tree ornament version (Photo credit:

I’ve never had a student give me an apple.

Actually, come to think of it, I’m friends with a lot of teachers, and I don’t think any of them have ever received an apple as a gift.  I’ve seen gifts of candy canes, popcorn, and various baked goods.  One teacher I know named Mrs. Pringle once had a student present her with a single potato chip.  Another teacher friend keeps a tin box in her purse for all the restaurant and coffee shop gift cards she receives.  But I don’t know of anyone who has actually received that iconic apple.

And yet… there it is, stuck on all those trinkets, pins, and cards designed to be given to teachers.  I’ve heard various theories behind the source of the symbol.  Some say it hearkens back to the days of the one-room school-house and the children bringing gifts from the orchard to their much-beloved teachers.  Others say the apple represents knowledge because of the tree in the Garden of Eden.  I’ve even heard people reference the story of Newton’s “discovery” of gravity, though I don’t really understand how that associates with education.  But by now, the source doesn’t matter.  American culture has unquestionably accepted the symbolism and the apple is forever plastered on all things cutesy-teacher.  Want to visually indicate the educational profession?  Just slap together a picture of a stack of books and top it off with an apple, and all of a sudden you have a ready-made gift for a teacher.

He bobbles from the waist.   It’s creepy. (Photo credit:

That used to bug me.  Nothing I do on a daily basis has anything to do with apples.  I don’t teach agriculture, horticulture, or cooking.  I bring them sometimes in my packed lunch, but not so frequently that they merit symbolism.  I have no great connection to apples, so why do they keep showing up in my life?  However, I’ve decided that it doesn’t really matter, because as an English teacher I know the value of symbolism, whatever it may be.  I may not have any personal affection for the apple, but through that symbol the world is able to show their appreciation for what we do.

In a world that often questions the value, motives, and efforts of teachers, that reduces us to a list of test scores and union debates, I cannot ignore the value of those ready-made expressions of thanks.  They encourage us and let us know that we are appreciated.  We may occasionally secretly roll our eyes at the slightly creepy figurine now sitting on our desks or jewelry that we’ll probably never wear, but we will always appreciate the thought behind the gift.  That thought is the real gift.  The apple is just the means of communicating it.

OK, this one is kind of cool. (Photo credit:

I’m not about to decorate my house in apples.  If anyone ever gives me a brooch with a ruler and an apple on it, it probably wouldn’t match my fashion sense.  I would wear it in the class with that student, but not much otherwise.  I would treasure it, though.  I keep all the precious, heartfelt gifts my students and their parents give me.  (Except the gift cards.  I gladly spend those.)

I’ve never been given an actual apple, but one gift came close.  About two years ago, several of my students were talking about fruit one day.  A girl randomly turned to me and asked me what my favorite fruit was.  I replied casually that I really liked mangoes.   The next morning I walked into my classroom and found a mango sitting on my desk, complete with a sticky note that read, “I got you a MANGO!!”, signed with the girl’s name.

I ate the mango, and it was delicious.  I still have the sticky note.


11 thoughts on “That Darn Apple on a Stack of Books

  1. This was such a sweet post! In the beginning I almost felt bad because I don’t think I’ve ever given any of my teachers, no matter how much I liked them, an apple. I do think I (attempted) to write my grade 6 teacher a end of the year card by (not so secretively) questioning him about his likings,, don’t remember how that turned out though.

    I am definitely one of those people who keep small things, I believe somewhere on my voicemail I still have a message from my mother while she was in China and she had sounded so happy. I hope that doesn’t cross the creepy line..


  2. Your theory about children bringing apples to their teacher back in the time of those one-room schools is about what I always thought.

    Ever heard of the Newton University? Alright, it doesn’t link apples to teachers, though it does link Newton to education. See? I was a good student 🙂


      • Initially, I became interested in teaching high school English because I wanted to study English in college and I needed to find a profession that went with it. I was a bit of a book nerd as a kid, but I was also very social and knew that I didn’t want a job that stuck me behind a desk eight hours a day. That’s what first drew me to teaching. However, as soon as I began, even in my early college clinic work and student teaching, I fell in love with working with teenagers in general. It is very rewarding work, and a ton of fun.

        That’s the short version. 🙂 I’ve actually written a few posts about how I got into the profession. Here’s a longer version of the answer to your question:
        But that may be more of an answer than you were looking for. 🙂


  3. I actually HAVE received an apple- multiple times from the same student. It was a couple of years ago- one of my favorite 6th grade classes. They brought up how in some cartoon, a kid had brought the teacher an apple- I made some joke about bribery with fruit- and the next day, two students brought me one. I got an apple about once a week for the next three or four weeks.

    Yesterday I had a student bring me a silk rose. Wrote about it on my blog, actually- so this apple/gift post is timed strangely well!


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