Ok, I didn't read through the whole thread yet ........
I worked in 3 daycare centers and all 3 were in my opinion very good and I have tried for 2 years to get my DD in one of them (I am not an employee of their org so I am at the bottom of the wait list).
I interviewd at tons of centers that were horrible. I hate to generalize but they were the bigger chain type centers that usually we not ones I wanted to work at. One center was willing to hire me after a 15 minute interview ~ they basically said -"we are desparate, can you start tomorrow?"
I think it would suprise a lot of people to know to be a "teacher" in daycare in the states/areas I worked in required a college degree or several years of experience plus a CDA (which is a child care credential). This was mandated by law. In fact, my college degree was not in education or any related subject so I had to take 6 additional college courses to qualify to "teach".
I taught in a 4 year old room and it was great! I really got to know the kids and I recently saw the parents of one of the kids (its been almost 10 years!) and we remembered each other and I got to see pics of their darling DD almost all grown up. We didn't have a lot of discipline issues in our class and the kids were always engaged in some kind of activity. We worked with the Kindergarten teacher next door alot to do activities. In that center, the majority of the teachers had been there for several years as had the subs. There was very low turnover because the teachers were happy with the environment and that in turn affected both the children and the parents. It was a smaller private preschool/daycare.
The next center I was the infant "teacher". There were 9 infants in the room but it was very rare to actually have all 9 babies in on one day ~ some were part time, some were out sick, some were on vacation. There were 2 teachers and we had a third helper come in the afternoon. Working here was so much fun! Its hard to understand with out seeing it first hand but yes, the babies we had did have fun and "played" with each other. Ok, of course they didn't play as we think of with older kids but here is an example - we had this little built in slope with stairs that went up it. So one baby would get old enough to figure out how to get up the stairs and then come down the slope. Then a couple of the other babies would watch and start to try and imitate and then they would be following each other up the stairs and down the slope! It was so cute to watch! We had a huge mat that covered most of the floor and we usually sat on the floor to play with the babies. There was a separate sleeping area, full kitchen, and changing area.
The last center I worked out was with mixed ages. Loved working there also. I worked with kids 18 mths - 3 years on a daily basis. Sometimes there were older kids but rarely. Even if we only had 8 kids on a given day, we had 3 teachers available. We had a built in treehouse in the center and the kids loved it.
One thing I learned is that some children are better off in daycare. Their parents, either mom or dad or both, couldn't do the 8-10 hours of care alone for their child every day. I don't think this is bad or wrong, I think its just the way it is. Also, I learned that most people undervalue daycare workers. The majority of teachers and aids I worked with all had college degrees some had master's degrees. This is a legitamite career choice.
All in all, working in daycare was the best job(s) I ever had and if it didn't pay so low, I would still be working in one. There are good centers where children have fun and learn and the teachers and adults are interested and engaging.
One observation ~ I always find it interesting in the area I live in that many SAHMs say they would never use daycare yet they shuttle their child to various classes several mornings and afternoons a week essentially paying someone else to interact and "teach" their child and for the child to "socialize". At the same time, they say that socialization at a young age is not important and they are their child's teacher. I can't count how many times I have heard SAHMs say "I am so busy! We have kindermusic on Monday than ballet in the afternoon, Gymboree on Tuesday, etc and so forth" Sure she is busy - busy making sure she doesn't have to spend time at home with her child. Of course, this is the kind of SAHM who will announce she would never put her child in daycare, etc and so forth. I am not saying that this is how all SAHMs are in anyway and the affluence of the area I live in no doubt creates the ability to go to all those classes but it would be nice to meet a SAHM in my area who says "we are going to be busy today - we are going to hang out in the backyard and garden, chase bugs, look at nature, etc".